The idea of having to choose a new boiler is one which fills many of us with dread. Most people only have to think about the options when something goes wrong, but taking the time to carefully consider your choice could pay dividends, considering that 55% of energy bills are generated by boilers. As the government’s 2020 target of generating 15% of all power from sustainable fuels comes closer, what is the incentive to choose an eco-friendly biomass boiler over a conventional gas one, and do the benefits outweigh the cost?
What are they?
Biomass boilers are wood-fueled heating systems which burn wood pellets, chips or logs to power central heating systems or hot water boilers as an alternative to conventional gas or oil systems. Biomass fuel is classed as ‘carbon neutral’ as the carbon the wood produces when burnt is offset by the carbon consumed as the tree grows.
One issue which undoubtedly puts many off is the initial outlay. Boilers are always an investment, but at ten times the cost of a conventional gas or oil boiler system, the return on investment has to be extremely high to warrant paying out upwards of £12,000 for installation. For commercial properties, the initial cost is even greater; a hospital would need to spend a whopping £400,000 to ensure adequate heating and hot water for the average building. It is no surprise then, that biomass boilers only account for 0.5% of total boiler sales at present.
For homeowners, manual biomass boilers do come in a little cheaper at around £7,000. This more simplistic system relies on wood being fed into the furnace by hand, something which for most homeowners would seem like quite a commitment, especially if you value a full night’s sleep.
The final consideration is the actual fuel, which can cost between £150 – £200 per tonne, and with the average household using around 11 tonnes of wood pellets per year, a domestic biomass boiler could cost £15,000 in the first year alone. Investing in a biomass boiler is certainly a hefty commitment.
What are the benefits?
Of course, there are some savings to be made from switching to an eco-friendly form of fuel. In April 2014, the government launched the revised Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This scheme is aimed at homeowners, landlords and self-builders, though is not open to any other variety of new build at this point. The government offer 12.2p/kWh produced by biomass boilers, but it would take a few years to see any real return on investment.
Commercial organisations using a lot of heat and hot water could see around 2,500 tonnes of carbon emissions offset and around £60,000 saved on bills in a year, but again, this could mean waiting around six or seven years before seeing any real return, but could be a reasonable consideration for a public building.
Do the benefits outweigh the cost?
With the average conventional boiler costing between £500 and £2500, a biomass boiler at £12,000 is only a viable option for those with a long term plan for return. For homeowners who may consider moving house in the near future, an investment which takes several years to pay you back may not be enough of a draw.
With most households already dreading the idea of shelling out for a new boiler, they are unlikely to consider one which is substantially more expensive, in the hope that they will begin to see some benefits a few years later.
However, it is perhaps worth taking into account for larger commercial buildings, whose more substantial use of energy could generate real savings over the years.
With government deadlines for converting to sustainable energy creeping ever closer, it is very feasible that more incentive schemes and funding options will be implemented in the near future. But at the moment at least, biomass boilers seem a long way from being an affordable option, even for the most conscientious of us.
For more information on the costs and savings involved, visit www.theecoexperts.co.uk.
Grace writes for The Eco Experts www.theecoexperts.co.uk