Con­vert­ing to biomass could pay div­i­dend for oil users

The government is set to an­nounce in­cen­tives for house­holds to con­vert to biomass boil­ers and for those on oil it could pay off. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

AS fuel costs rise, the search for cheaper heat has in­ten­si­fied and those with oil-fired boil­ers are lead­ing the hunt.

Piped gas at 4.8p per k/w hour isn’t usu­ally an op­tion for those who rely on oil, which is around 6p per kwh. Con­ven­tional al­ter­na­tives, LPG at 7.6 per kwh, and elec­tric­ity, 14.5p per kwh are even more ex­pen­sive.

It’s why a grow­ing num­ber of house­holds are turn­ing their at­ten­tion to biomass boil­ers fired by wood pel­lets, which costs around 4.2p per kwh.

At around a third less than the price of oil it would be a no brainer were it not for the costs of in­stal­la­tion, which range from £7,000 to around £12,000.

“The sav­ings on oil means that it is a good in­vest­men but some peo­ple still hes­i­tate be­cause of the ini­tial out­lay,” says Amanda Bot­ter­ill, Di­rec­tor of Guise­ley­based York­shire So­lar Con­sult­ing and Chair of the York­shire Mi­cro­gen­er­a­tion Part­ner­ship, who adds that the government’s pro­posed re­new­able heat in­cen­tive (RHI) scheme for domestic biomass boil­ers should boost the mar­ket.

The domestic RHI looks set to be an­nounced later this month and fol­lows a sim­i­lar scheme for com­mer­cial sys­tems.

“The ben­e­fits of fit­ting biomass in a com­mer­cial set­ting have been im­mense,” says Amanda Bot­ter­ill. “Not only do you save a third on their fuel bills if you switch from oil, you get the RHI pay­ment. A small of­fice can get an an­nual RHI of £3,000 and a large fac­tory around £60,000.

“We ex­pect the domestic RHI to be in line with the com­mer­cial rate. It is ex­pected to run for seven years and the an­nual pay­ment on a 25kw boiler should be be­tween £2,500 to £3,000 a year.”

Although only 0.5% of boiler sales in Bri­tain are biomass, they are widely used in Swe­den and are pop­u­lar in Ger­many and Aus­tria.

“I wouldn’t rec­om­mend them as an alternative to gas as that is still cheaper but it cer­tainly makes fi­nan­cial sense when com­pared to oil, es­pe­cially if your boiler needs re­plac­ing any­way,” says Amanda, who a biomass heat­ing sys­tem in her own home.

An­drew and Chris­tine Ri­d­ley agree. When they ren­o­vated their cot­tage near Kirk­by­moor­side in North York­shire they were keen to find a cheaper, greener alternative to oil, which was cost­ing them about £900 a year.

“We needed a new boiler and heat­ing sys­tem any­way. The cost of in­stal­la­tion for a biomass boiler was about £10,000 but the run­ning costs are about a third cheaper and it’s car­bon neu­tral,” says Chris­tine.

The Ri­d­leys have a room-based boiler, which works in a sim­i­lar way to the old-fash­ioned back boil­ers.

The cou­ple feed a stove with wood pel­lets bought in bulk and this runs the cen­tral heat­ing and heats the water. They also have a so­lar panel for hot water plus an im­mer­sion heater as backup.

“It isn’t like an oil or gas sys­tem as you have to keep feed­ing the stove with pel­lets and the pro­gram­ming is dif­fer­ent but you get used to it and the fuel sav­ings are well worth it,” says Chris­tine.

There are two types of domestic biomass boiler. For smaller prop­er­ties, a room-based sys­tem is best and least ex­pen­sive cost­ing around £8,000 to £10,000 to in­stall. You need to have a chim­ney for the stove and space for a hot water cylin­der but it can plumb into ex­ist­ing ra­di­a­tors.

“It is more labour in­ten­sive than a gas or oil boiler in that you have to feed the wood burner with pel­lets and you have to clean it out once a week,” says Amanda.

“How­ever, if you have a large house then you can have a util­ity boiler, which is fed with pel­lets from a hop­per au­to­mat­i­cally. This costs be­tween £15,000 and £20,000 to in­stall and you need more space for it, but the run­ning costs for this are even cheaper be­cause you can buy the wood pel­lets in bulk.”

An­nual main­te­nance, in­clud­ing a ser­vice and a flue sweep, costs about £125 for a room boiler sys­tem and £200 for a util­ity boiler. All the boil­ers are im­ported and get­ting parts can take weeks so find­ing a rep­utable in­staller with a good sup­plier is cru­cial.

It is also im­por­tant to check the sup­ply of wood pel­lets. Although it is said to be be car­bon neu­tral, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns about biomass were on the news agenda again this week and largely re­late to im­ported pel­lets con­tain­ing palm oil. Rain­forests have been dec­i­mated to feed in­dus­try’s de­mand for the oil. There are also con­cerns that bio­di­verse forests be­ing re­placed with sin­gle species for bio­fuel.

Many of the pel­lets used in domestic boil­ers in York­shire are made from com­pacted saw­dust and are a by-prod­uct from the tim­ber in­dus­try.

“Ev­ery­one asks where the pel­lets come from and if they will run out. In York­shire we have a big sup­plier in Ripon, which helps, ”says Amanda, who is most con­cerned that a RHI will lead to a flood of in­ex­perieced in­stall­ers. Any­one think­ing of buy­ing a biomass boiler should do their home­work and find a rep­utable in­staller with ex­pe­ri­ence of the prod­uct.

www.biomassen­er­gy­cen­tre. org.uk. York­shire So­lar Con­sult­ing, www.york­shire so­lar.com

MORE FOR YOUR MONEY: Stoney­hurst is full of pe­riod features and has been sym­pa­thet­i­cally ren­o­vated and ex­tended.

CHEAPER: A domestic biomass wood­burner works on the same ba­sis as a back boiler. A stove fed with wood pel­lets pro­vides heat­ing and hot water.

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