Wood-fuel can be burned to provide heat and generate power. As long as the wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests this can provide a renewable energy source. For community-scale energy projects, wood fuel (sometimes referred to as "biomass" along with other potential organic fuels such as food-waste) will usually be burned in heating or combined heat and power systems. Wood fuelled heating systems burn wood pellets, chips or logs in a controlled way to provide warmth in a single room or to power central heating and hot water boilers. Combined heat and power systems generate electricity as well as producing heat and are generally best used on sites with significant heating needs all year round. This page will introduce the technology within the context of a community project and provide links to external sites and modules with more information.
Biomass systems are available in a range of sizes - small (1-199kWth), medium (200-999kWth) and large (1MWth+). The vast majority of systems installed in the UK have been small or medium.
Biomass systems have been developed by community groups across the UK and are particularly common in rural locations that are not connected to the gas network. Community-owned biomass boilers can bring income from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). With additional savings possible depending on the cost of the fuel source that has been replaced.
What are the benefits?
There are a number of benefits to installing a biomass in a domestic or non-domestic scenario, these include -
- Biomass is a mature, well developed technology with an established installer and fuel supply chain.
- Biomass can help reduce costs and carbon emissions, especially in off-grid situations relying on electric heating.
- Community biomass systems work particularly well where there is a large heat requirement.
- Income can be generated from domestic and non-domestic RHI.
Key points to consider for community biomass
Site selection - wood boilers are larger than conventional gas or oil equivalents and you will need space to store the fuel. The area must be able to handle large deliveries as well as the initial delivery and construction of the system.
Fuel type - there are a number of different forms of biomass that can be used - pellets, logs or wood chips each with different advantages and disadvantages. The long term availability of fuel source should be considered. It is important to ensure that your fuel supplier will meet the RHI biomass sustainability requirements.
Installer - An MCS approved installer is essential to claim the RHI. It is advisable to get several quotes from installers to ensure value for money.
Incentives and savings - in addition to income from RHI a biomass heating system will displace fossil fuel generation and can result in cost savings, depending on the fuel type displaced.
The Community Biomass Guide has been developed in partnership with the Forestry Commission and offers a range of information, tools and case studies. This guide will help communities evaluate the potential of woodfuel resources.
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) technologies section contains information on related policy, legislation and example schemes for biomass heating in a UK context.
Ofgem’s RHI website has details of tariffs, regulations and how to apply.