This feature will explore the large cost and CO2 savings biomass delivers, when compared to fossil fuels. It will also look at the opportunity for installations heating more than a single building with one biomass boiler in a district heating scheme. The feature will conclude with how social housing providers and housing developers can magnify these cost savings across multiple units of housing stock.
The article will conclude by discussing how this will create tens of thousands of new renewable heat installations over the next few years and opportunities for heating engineers due to a national shortage of qualified and experienced installers.
Biomass District Heating
Where more than a single building is heated by a single biomass boiler, this is called biomass district heating. The boiler is programmed to maintain a target temperature in a thermal heat store and automatically “turns down”, or “modulates”, to below full capacity when this is achieved. When the temperature drops in the thermal heat store, the boiler is automatically fed from its fuel store and runs at full 100% capacity, until the target temperature in the thermal heat store is reached.
From the thermal store, a series of insulated pipes distribute hot water underground to each individual building in the district heating scheme. The flow and return within each pipe is usually connected to a heat exchanger in each property. Space heating for radiators, under floor heating or domestic hot water temperatures is then controlled in the same way that a traditional boiler would be.
To measure the usage in each building within the district heating scheme, a heat meter is fitted in each property and individual central heating bills can be easily calculated.
District Heating – Safety in Numbers!
Biomass district heating delivers scale economies, fuel cost savings and is eligible for RHI payments. This makes the capital cost per building lower than those with a single boiler serving a single property.
The biomass boiler can also be housed in its own dedicated boiler room and a heat exchanger installed in each property. This means that space is freed up and interior layouts have more flexibility. From a maintenance point of view, a single biomass boiler requires less time in servicing and so is far more cost effective, per unit, than having one boiler in each property.
Biomass boilers at the higher end of the quality scale, such as the Guntamatic range, have high heating efficiencies of up to 96% along with CO2 savings of up to 96%. A larger and more sophisticated combustion chamber and the simultaneous production of heat for multiple housing units also delivers better pollution control than would be possible with a series of localised boilers. This is a real plus for developers who are aiming to meet the efficiency standards set out in the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The lower cost per unit is a great way to pass on the savings to tenants and homeowners, protecting entire communities from fuel poverty, shortages and increasing fuel costs. When it is forecast that the UK will have an even colder winter this year, this is great news for more than a million oil-reliant families!
Money for Green Heat – the RHI is Open for Business
The RHI has now been launched and so OFGEM’s website is open for the owners of eligible biomass boilers to apply for inclusion in this scheme. So, as well as up to 50% fuel savings and up to 96% reductions in CO2, a district heating scheme can be financially as well as environmentally rewarding.
Since we were established in 2006, Treco’s own installers have now fitted in excess of 250 biomass boiler systems nationally so we’ve seen the benefits of several district schemes for ourselves. A development of new-build housing in the West Country involved three 100kW boilers providing heating and hot water to sixty-six units of privately-owned and social housing.
Three high specification, custom-built boiler houses are located in key areas across the site. In each house, there is a customer interface unit with a heat meter, heat exchanger and radio link for heating and two heat exchangers where domestic hot water is also supplied.
The housing developer met the requirements for emissions and efficiencies against the Code for Sustainable Homes and other stringent planning requirements. This enables them to save on cost in the long term as well as gaining fuel cost savings and RHI Payments.
Biomass Boiler Installer Shortage
At present, there are only around 180 MCS Qualified biomass installers, a requirement for systems under 45kW, as well as a shortage of experience at all levels. Given there are forecast to be 124,000 new renewable heat installations over the coming years stimulated by the commercial RHI alone, this is an opportunity for job creation.
As well as new jobs being created for installers, there will be growth in the whole renewable heating supply chain, despite today’s wider economic issues. We are actively helping many installers qualify for accreditation through working on reference projects.
To conclude, where there are multiple units in social housing developments, a biomass district heating scheme can achieve up to 50% savings over heating oil. Landlords or management companies can use the RHI payments to fund the long-term provision of front-line services to the most vulnerable, despite the Comprehensive Spending Review’s budget cuts.
Fuel poverty can be eased through offering cost-effective heating to homeowners and tenants living in district schemes. Capital costs per unit of housing stock and the bill for ongoing maintenance can be reduced, making sustainability viable and a win-win for all involved.
The shortage of experienced and qualified biomass boiler installers should be viewed as an opportunity for plumbers, heating engineers and others looking to diversify during hard economic times into renewables and to make a long term living.
www.treco.co.uk or 0845 130 9012