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Forestry fuels heating revolution

A growing number of businesses, households, farms and estates are making the move to wood energy, drawn by technology with excellent green credentials, cost savings and long-term income from the Renewable Heat Incentive. Neil Harrison and Ben Tansey of re:heat explain.
Neil Harrison and Ben Tansey, specialists in the wood energy sector in the UK and Europe, launched their Northumberland-based company, re:heat, 18 months ago. They are working with businesses of all sizes that are keen to move from fossil fuel to sustainable, low-carbon wood-based heating.

Demand for this type of expertise is growing as the Government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) further increases interest in wood energy. The scheme provides 20 years of financial incentives to people who install wood heating equipment.

This is a growth industry, both for wood heating and the forestry sector.

Converting to a modern wood-fired boiler can save a considerable amount of money on heating bills, especially in off-gas areas and where heating costs are high.

'Woodfuel is a modern and efficient way of heating your business or organisation, and avoids the use of fossil fuels,' says Mr Tansey, 'but if you are thinking of changing from fossil-fuelled heating, it's essential to get good advice early in the process.We are increasingly being called out to investigate why boilers installed by third parties aren't performing properly, and we've added troubleshooting to our remit, picking up contracts with local authorities, the NHS and at a number of private properties.'

'It's important to think about your motivations for putting in a biomass boiler,' advises Mr Harrison. 'The answers will help determine what will be the right equipment for you.

'Use proven technology and installers. Equipment that's been tried and tested tends to do the job, while cutting corners and compromising may reduce the up-front costs, but if it leaves you with a headache for 20 years, you'll regret it or face a bigger replacement cost.'

Case study
In association with Allister Marsh, director of the Hexham-based Centre for Green Energy, re:heat worked with farmer Robert Leiper to convert his heating to biomass. Mr Leiper's farm, Black Heddon near Stamfordham in Northumberland, has 100 acres of woodland to provide the fuel for his ETA log boiler. He currently fills the boiler with wood fuel every two to three days.

Mr Leiper said: 'All of us involved in the project are delighted with the outcome.'
In cases where there are several farm or estate buildings, both the landlord and tenants benefit from lower heating costs, and we would encourage others to look at this as a potential source of fuel.'

'We have a lot of windblown ash and sycamore, and have started managing our spruce woodland more, so that we can use the less valuable trees for fuel.

Mr Leiper is now thinking about his winter fuel supplies and getting into the management cycle that's essential to maintain the supply of fuel boiler, such as drying the wood now for later use.

'I did consider a fully-automated woodchip boiler,' he says, 'but the investment is higher and there is the cost of chipping to take into account. I am pleased with this system, it is small enough to manage, and there is always someone on site to make sure it's fed with wood. Previously, we were spending £4,000 a year on oil and that barely heated the houses or hot water.'

Mr Leiper has applied to the RHI and waiting to see what support he will receive for the new system.

Benefits
Advantages for others considering a similar project:

1. Properties which share a connection are currently eligible for the non-domestic RHI scheme, so it is ideal for farms where they are a number of rental or self catering properties

2. A typical 100kW boiler could generate an annual income of £11,000 for the next 20 years

3. There will be a significant reduction in fuel costs, as pellets are about two thirds of the cost of oil and half that of LPG, while chips and logs are lower still around half the current cost of heating oil

4. There are boilers suited to all types of wood fuel, including logs, wood chips and pellets, so equipment can be matched with the local fuel supply.

re:heat advises businesses on every aspect of the process, from finding and installing the right system, to teaching customers how to operate it for optimum results.

The company also works with customers to find the most appropriate local fuel source, and teaches those with their own wood how to prepare it for use as a fuel.
15 August 2013

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