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District heating and the benefits of biomass

District heating offers a great solution to sites where multiple buildings need heat; from factories and industrial estates, to whole villages. When it comes to biomass, further benefits can be realised thanks to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Simon Holden, looks at the pros and options for wood-based district heating
DISTRICT HEATING - a large plant room that services multiple buildings - is particularly well suited to biomass. The kit associated with a wood heating system (boiler, fuel store, accumulator) takes up a lot of space and by keeping this out of people's homes or businesses, in a dedicated area, the footprint of biomass felt by occupants is minimal - in fact less than if each building had its own gas central heating system, for example. There must, of course, be land available to house this plant, but this can be out of sight, with heat transported where it's needed through underground pipes and heat exchangers.

District heating benefits:
Keep downtime to a minimum: With very little impact on individual buildings, the entire system can be built with existing heating still working until the day everything's ready to switch over. For a speedier turn around, there are pre-fabricated solutions. For example Euroheat supplies the Energy Cabin; a biomass heating system housed inside a purpose-built box which simply has to be plumbed and wired-in on site - taking days instead of weeks to install. Pre-fabrication also helps keep costs down - by up to 30 per cent - thanks to reduced man hours, plus there is no need to build a dedicated plant room.

Designed for projects where the requirement is needed quickly, particularly those where planning may be an issue, pre-fabrication is suitable for industrial estates and manufacturing facilities, where premises can't be closed, in some instances, at all. Another benefit is that the 'box' is considered a non-permanent structure and can avoid planning legislation all together.

Energy Cabins can negate planning permission, making them suitable for listed properties. In general, historic sites are often very difficult to work on, especially where the trappings of the 21st Century must remain largely out of view, another factor that district heating can help with.

A Euroheat district heating system is currently being installed by 'Northdown Wood & Heat' on an Estate of over 20 properties; comprising a mansion, let homes and a church. With its own managed woodland, biomass, in the form of wood chip, is the ideal fuel. The carbon footprint of the whole scheme is kept to the bare minimum thanks the extremely short distance 'from tree to radiator'. For the customer, this means fuel costs are virtually nothing and, as long as the woodlands are properly managed, they can be sure of a constant supply.

Steps towards complete self-sufficiency are further enhanced by using solar photovoltaics to power the boilers' electrics. Located on the plant room roof, the panels make no impact on the village itself and deliver a smart solution that ups the green credentials even further.

The project is one of the first outings for Euroheat's newest and largest boiler, HDG M400; a 400 kW chip boiler, of which there are two on this site. Combined with an 8,000 litre accumulator in the purpose-built boiler room and one other 5,000 litre accumulator within the village itself, extensive care has been taken to ensure that the presence of biomass is hardly felt by residents and visitors. Each home just has a small heat exchanger - small enough to fit under a sink.

Fuel delivery made easy: With one, purpose built site, fuel will need to be delivered less frequently than if each building was individually powered by biomass. A large hopper means this fuel can be stored for months at a time and if designed correctly, access to the remote plant room will be lorry friendly and, if necessary, out of end users' line of vision. The Estate mentioned above has its own fuel supply, but if this did have to be delivered, the district heating plant is screened by trees, away from the village, meaning no heavy vehicles will trundle through the picturesque setting.

Whether a country estate or a trading estate, where there are multiple buildings with enough space and, in an ideal world, wood, biomass district heating is an excellent choice; one that presents all the benefits of a modern heating system. For example, heat is available on demand and can be controlled by the end user to create a comfortable environment specific to their own requirements - shared heating does not mean a compromised experience for individuals.

HDG biomass boilers from Euroheat have been tried and tested in Germany, where wood heating is far more ingrained in the culture, giving UK customers peace of mind that the machines work well. Plus, with healthy returns under the commercial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), switching to wood could be an excellent investment opportunity.

//The author is the co-founder of Euroheat//
1 December 2013


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