14 Aug 2014

Heating & Renewables: Minimise your carbon footprint

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We have used biomass energy for thousands of years, ever since people started burning wood to cook food or keep warm. Today, wood is still our largest biomass energy resource that provides carbon-neutral heating.

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Many sources of biomass can be used to heat a house, including plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes – even the fumes from landfills can be used as a biomass energy source – but wood-fuelled systems are still the most popular biomass method. These burn wood pellets, chips or logs to provide warmth in a single room or to power central heating and hot water boilers.

When a tree is burned it omits the same amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during its lifetime – the same amount as if allowed to rot naturally. As long as the wood used is sustainably sourced, this is a carbon-neutral process.

A stove burns logs or pellets to heat a single room and may be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating as well. A boiler burns logs, pellets or chips, and is connected to a central heating and hot water system and, according to the Energy Saving Trust, could save you up to £650 a year compared to electric heating.

An individual pellet stove will cost around £4300 including installation. For boilers, an automatically fed pellet boiler for an average home costs between £14,000 and £19,000 including installation, flue and fuel store, and log boilers between £11,000 and £23,000.

Pellet costs depend mainly on the size and method of delivery and buying a few bags at a time makes them expensive. Having a space to store several tonnes of pellets at a time will keep costs down. Logs can be cheaper than pellets, but costs depend on the wood suppliers in your local area, as they cost a lot to transport. If you opt for a wood-burning stove, consider buying unseasoned logs and letting them season for a year to save money.

A long-term investment

Savings in carbon dioxide emissions are very significant – up to 14.5 tonnes a year when a wood-fuelled boiler replaces a solid-fired system or electric storage heating. This technology is an eligible measure under the UK government’s Green Deal which is a financing mechanism that lets people pay for energy-efficiency improvements through savings on their energy bills.

Thanks to the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, homeowners installing a biomass boiler could secure a tax-free payment of nearly £60,000 at a potential ROI of 64%. Natural Energy Company, Euroheat, has calculated that homeowners investing £35,000 in a domestic RHI biomass installation could see them potentially clock-up a return on investment of £57,645 over a seven year period plus an expected on-going reduction in fuel savings, and a boiler that will last two decades.

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