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Biomass Gets Full Marks

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Schools are reaping significant savings on fuel by switching to biomass – wood chip or wood pellet boilers – according to new evidence from one of the industry's leading suppliers.

LC Energy, a specialist in sustainable wood fuel supply, has seen a year on year rise in the numbers of schools fitting biomass boilers across the South East, with most reporting thousands of pounds worth of savings on their heating bills. As well as developing a leading reputation for the supply of biomass wood fuel solutions – including design and feasibility, service and maintenance – LC Energy has been recognised1 for its policy of supplying wood chip and pellet fuel which is sustainably harvested and sourced locally2.

The company suggests that the rise in popularity of biomass in schools can, in part, be explained by the introduction of the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) 3. Introduced in 2012 to encourage uptake of renewable heat technologies among communities and businesses, the scheme provides financial incentives to eligible, non-domestic renewable heat generators for the life of the installation or up to a maximum of 20 years. Small-scale users can expect to generate at least the cost of the woodchip or wood pellet fuel each year in incentive payments, and often up to double the value. Payments are linked to the amount of renewable heat generated. Ofgem is responsible for administering the scheme and phase two, which will open the scheme to domestic applications, will launch later this year.

Mark Lebus, managing director of LC Energy, said: “As heat in schools must be available on-demand, particularly during cold spells such as the UK has experienced recently, locally sourced biomass has proved an excellent option, especially with availability of the RHI. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of schools recognising the cost effectiveness of wood fuel energy, as well as the benefits it delivers in terms of reducing the carbon footprint4 and lessening the establishment’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

Those schools investing in the technology have also seen an educational value in opting for the renewable energy source. As the wood chip or pellets are sourced locally, the on-site biomass boiler enables the pupils to get involved in understanding the renewable energy cycle and the importance of managing resources sustainably.

Julie Davies, office manager, at Marston Vale Middle School in Bedfordshire, said: “Our biomass system has proved a very cost effective alternative to our previous oil central heating system. Estimates suggest we’ve reduced our spending on heating by £15,000 a year. Over time, we will also benefit from the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive and this could save us an additional £15,000, annually. As well as using these savings to make investments in other areas of the school, our teachers have also gained a ready-made educational tool to help children understand the long term value of renewable energy.”

Schools have the option to show pupils the journey of the wood supply, from the felling of a tree under responsible forestry management to the production of carbon-efficient energy at their school.

Mark Smith is assistant head at St James Primary School in Elstead, Surrey. The school fitted a biomass boiler in August 2010. He said: “After exploring a range of heating possibilities for the school, we opted for biomass, given its excellent sustainability profile and cost effectiveness. It was also compelling for us to select an energy option which allows us to use a locally sourced fuel supply – not only does this help to minimise our carbon footprint, but it also allows us to support industry within our local community.”

James Little, LC Energy’s Business Development Manager, said: “We took the whole tree-to-heat story to St James Primary School’s Year 6 just before Christmas, and gave a short presentation about the replanting of trees for every tree felled. They were thoroughly enthusiastic, especially as we gave each of them a Douglas fir sapling to plant at home for some competitive tree growing!”

1. In autumn 2012, LC Energy and Heathrow Airport Limited secured a prestigious award for ‘Best Contribution to Corporate Responsibility’ from The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS). This is a global organisation dedicated to promoting best practices in procurement and supply. The award recognises ‘the highly measurable and sustainable results” associated with a state of the art wood fuel energy system at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 development.

2. Biomass takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it is growing, and returns it as it is burned. If managed on a sustainable basis, biomass is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop. This is either during woodland or arboricultural management or coppicing, or as part of a continuous programme of replanting with the new growth taking up CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by combustion of the previous harvest. This maintains a closed carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels, sometimes referred to as ‘carbon neutral’.

3. Details of the Renewable Heat Incentive

Tariffs are available at different levels depending on the size of the boilers and will be payable for 20 years.

There are three non-domestic tariff levels:

Up to 199kW

200 kW – 999kW

Above 1000kW

For boilers up to 999kW, the tariff levels are based on a two-tier payment structure: tier 1 payments for up to 1,314 peak load hours of operation (15% annual heat load) and tier 2 payments for operational hours above this.

For boiler capacities of 1,000kW and above there is a single tariff level.

The tariffs are as follows:

Tariff Name Eligible Sizes Tariff Rate (p/kWhr) Tariff Duration (Years)

Small Biomass Up to 199kW Tier 1: 8.3p

Tier 2: 2.1p


Medium Biomass 200kW – 999kW Tier 1: 5.1p

Tier 2: 2.1p


Large Biomass 1,000kW and above 1p 20

For larger boilers above 45kW, the cash back will be paid quarterly on the basis of a Heat Meter reading.

Key criteria:

All boilers installed under 45kW must be certified under the Microgeneration Certified Scheme (MCS).

All boiler installers, installing boilers under 45kW, must also be MCS certified.

All commercial boilers who wish to receive cash back payments need a recognized Heat Meter.

4. What are the carbon costs of wood fuel?

All traditional fuel (excluding nuclear) releases carbon dioxide (CO2) when it is burned. However, the net CO2 released by burning sustainably produced wood is considerably less than the CO2 released when fossil fuels are burned as the following table shows:

Net CO2 emissions by fuel type

Fuel type: Life cycle CO2 emission

Wood 7 kg/MWh

Natural Gas 270 kg/MWh

Oil 350 kg/MWh

Coal 480 kg/MWh

Electricity 530 kg/MWh

In essence, CO2 is not saved by burning wood fuel – it is only saved by displacing the fossil fuel equivalent, and savings depend on what fuel is being displaced.

CO2 savings when wood is substituted for fossil fuels

Net CO2 released

1 m3 of wood provides 2,500kWhrs of energy (when seasoned) 17.5kg

CO2 Saved by substituting 1m3 of wood for fossil fuel

Fossil fuels delivering the same amount of energy Natural Gas 675kg 657kg

Oil 875kg 857kg

Coal 1,200kg 1,182kg

Electric 1,325kg 1,307kg

To convert from CO2 saved to carbon you divide by 44 (the molecular weight of CO2) then multiply by 12 (the atomic weight of carbon). So 1kg of CO2 would equate to 0.27 kg of carbon.

5. What are the cost advantages of wood fuels compared with other fuels?

Using a domestic home requiring about 15,000kWhrs of heat per year. At this rate, and at current average prices for usable heat, here are the costings:

Electricity = 15 p/kWhr = £2,250/yr

Oil = 6.3 p/kWhr = £945/yr

(based on 63 pence per litre and 10kWhrs per litre)

Coal = 5 p/kWhr = £750/yr

Mains gas = 4.8 p/kWhr = £720/yr

Wood pellets = 4.5 p/kWhr = £675/yr

(based on £216 per tonne (loose bulk blown) and 4,800 kWhrs per tonne)

Woodchips = 3.5 p/kWhr = £530/yr

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