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Stackyard News Sep 2012

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Strategic Woodfuel Planning

“Stop sending money out of your estate and look at the availability of your internal wood resources, its suitability, accessibility and profitability.” This is the message from Ben Tansey, Wood Fuel Specialist and Director of Northumberland based woodfuel company re:heat.

Ben Tansey of re:heat

Ben Tansey

With the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive and more rural businesses looking to capitalise on their own resources, woodfuel energy offers an alternative and cost effective solution.

Fuel and heating costs are consistently on the rise and it is important that both commercial properties and estates employ the best solution for their own needs. However, whilst woodfuel can be an economical heating choice in the long term, the initial set up costs are not cheap so it is important to get it right the first time to avoid unforeseen bills further down the line.

The message from Ben is: “The cheapest, simplest solution doesn’t always pay, there is a minefield of information relating to biomass, so make sure you do your homework and do it right, first time. This will save money in the long term.”

Ben has spent nearly a decade working in the woodfuel industry dealing with small domestic household to multi megawatt industrial biomass. He has also worked throughout Europe on biomass projects and is an advisor on biomass to the government office in the North East. As one of the foremost in his field Ben takes a look into the strategic planning for farms and estates, crucial for a successful woodfuel energy system.

Why do you want to install a woodfuel boiler?
Is it for cost savings, carbon savings, to reduce your reliance on oil or LPG or is it to make the most of the opportunity presented by the Renewable Heat Incentive? Or is it to use your own woodlands to your advantage or even to support local businesses providing the fuel? Every customer is different and has a different set of objectives, so it is imperative that you know why you’re going to do it, and to then determine the correct technical and commercial solution for your individual requirements. There is also a raft of relatively inexperienced installation companies offering ‘expert services’, this inexperience can be dangerous and secondly often ends up costing the buyer more in the long run.

The combined property portfolio of a medium sized estate could typically spend more than £250,000 per year on oil and LPG. The same estate often has the resources to close their energy loop and start to produce their own fuel. Many estates have a sustainable supply of wood available to heat every cottage, castle and coot. In the long term adopting a strategic approach to woodfuel across a property portfolio both saves and generates money and can also create jobs within the estate.

In terms of thinking strategically, those looking at woodfuel as an alternative source of fuel to oil or LPG, need to understand their own resources, and understand why they want a woodfuel boiler before investigating all of the opportunities fully, with guidance from an experienced installer, to identify the best solution.

On the boiler side of the equation, getting the design right the first time is paramount. The final configuration will change from house to house and business to business depending on the needs and shape of the building, as will fuel deliveries and fuel handling logistics. Understanding the existing heating system and how it’s used will determine how you can effectively connect a woodfuel system within the building. Without a well thought through design and an understanding of what the woodfuel boiler will be able to do, you can end up with a system that underperforms and leaves you with cold toes on a winter’s night.

The fuel side of things gives rise to the issue of fuel storage and delivery, which is often overlooked. It is important to know what fuel you have access to, how much is available and how you are going to effectively handle, deliver and manage that fuel. Not all fuels will suit all sites.

Installing a single woodfuel boiler into a large property or looking at opportunities for a whole rural estate requires a clear passage through a minefield of decisions. Many inexperienced installation companies are defaulting to the simplest and easiest woodfuel to handle, which is often pellets. Whilst pellets can be the right solution in some circumstances, they will not be in others. Taking the easy route might mean losing a source of income for the estate and losing the revival of the woodland management culture.

With any biomass installation, there come a number of positive opportunities for any estate, residential home or commercial business. Strategic, early planning can help you to maximise the opportunities to generate income from the Renewable Heating Incentive and from the sale of wood as a fuel to internal and external markets and also to save money against increasing oil or LPG prices within an estate.


re:heat was established in May 2011, and formally launched in April 2012 when Neil and Ben went full-time with the company. Ben, a resident of Rothbury, and Neil, who lives just outside Alnmouth, have supported the growth of the UK woodfuel industry for a decade, predominantly in technical design and installation along with advisory and supporting roles. Both have worked for Northwoods in the past – a Forestry Commission supported initiative to develop the forest industries in the north east.

In 2006, Neil and Ben won a UK National Training Award for the ignite woodfuel training programme, which is now the UK standard course for those entering the woodfuel supply chain. Both are members of the Confederation of Forest Industries’ North England Committee, and have filled a wide variety of national and international advisory roles over the past decade.

Both have young families, and are genuinely passionate about the contribution that the growing woodfuel market can make to the economy of Northumberland and the north east of England.

Renewable Heat Incentive

With £860 million available via the Renewable Heat Incentive over the remainder of this parliament, the tariff is the most generous payment currently available from the UK government for renewable energy technologies. Index-linked and payable over a 20 year period for, the RHI is designed to support a range of renewable heating technologies, with energy from wood demonstrating a clear lead in the first few months of the RHI’s operation.

Full details of the RHI scheme are available on the DECC website

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