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Energy efficiency
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Biomass Heating Technology Information

are any plant-derived material that can be used to generate energy in a variety of ways:
  • Single room space heating (woodstove)
  • Supplementary heat for multiple room space heating (woodstove with back boiler linked to radiators)
  • Complete central heating solution (biomass boiler linked to radiators)
  • Can even generate heat AND electricity (Biomass Combined Heat and Power ()).

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Key Points
  • Of primary importance to any biomass system is having a cheap and secure fuel supply.
  • Common forms of biomass used in the UK are: Traditional log fuels; Chipped wood fuels (wood chip); and Reconstructed wood fuels (briquettes and pellets).
  • Correct choice and sizing of system is critical to avoid waste or overly expensive operating costs. A qualified heat engineer needs to be consulted prior to installation of anything other than a simple wood stove.
  • For larger heat demands a biomass fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit can supply heat demand and provide cheap electricity for local use or export into the grid.
  • Modern stoves bring dry heat and can add atmosphere to a home.
  • Most systems other than wood chip or pellet boilers will require more handling of fuel than alternative fuels.
  • Biomass only represents a low carbon technology when the entire energy supply chain (from material source, delivery and use) is managed correctly.
  • Some urban areas may be in and limited to what type of system can be installed.
  • System specific chimney or design is critical to the correct operation of all types of biomass burners.

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Typical UK System

There are a wide variety of heating systems using biomass. Here are some of the more common systems:

  • Wood fired stoves for space heating one or two rooms.
  • Wood fired stove with integrated into existing/back-up heating system to provide/supplement hot water and space heating. Stoves with back boilers linked to a hot water system can reduce energy bill significantly (this is of course dependant on the cost of the wood fuel).
  • Wood fuel boilers combined with accumulator tanks:
    • Wood Fuel is burnt at a very high temperature in a specially designed burner.
    • A large volume of water is heated to around 80-90°C and stored in large well-insulated tanks.
    • The hot water provides hot water and space heating for buildings. Either directly or via heat exchange systems.
    • The boiler is sized to supply peak demand by firing, at most, once a day.
    • During periods of low demand (summer months) the boiler needs to fire much less frequently.
  • Dedicated biomass boilers (wood pellet or wood chip) can provide entire building heating and hot water needs via near instantaneous heat provision much like a modern gas or oil burner.

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Biomass installations vary widely in type and scope. The following is a list of issues which should be given consideration when deciding on a biomass system. It is far from exhaustive but attempts to guide the wood-be user.

  • Flue: A suitable flue is needed for biomass burning systems. A chimney can be retro-fitted with a specially designed flue at relatively little cost.
  • Supply: Sourcing of a reliable and affordable fuel supply is key to a biomass system and should be one of the first considerations when looking at biomass as an investment.
  • Smoke control: Some areas in the UK are designated smoke control areas in which only designated fuels and combustion systems may be used. Check here for details.
  • Space: Whilst the boiler unit itself is only slightly larger than a traditional boiler, space is needed for other components of the systems including the fuel store and a thermal heat store (optional).
  • Planning permission. If the flue is going to extend above the chimney line or if building work is needed for any aspect of the boiler and storage system you may have to apply for planning permission.
  • Space: Burners and boilers will rarely need more than 2 meters by 2 meters at the base of the flue. Accumulation tanks and the associated boilers need a dedicated space of at least 2x2x3 metres. Also fuel stores require space. This is variable dependent on fuel type and size of system.

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  • A basic wood burner for single room heating will cost anywhere from £500 to £3000. This cost difference is largely due to how much work needs to be done on the chimney and flue.
  • A large multi-fuel stove with back boiler can cost up to £2500 (boiler and flue only). Flue installation costs can be significant and boiler integration into heating system can add £1,000 onto the price.
  • A wood log boiler with accumulation tank (enough for an average detached house) can cost anywhere in the region 15,000 up to 25,000 depending on size of system.
  • A 20kW fully automated wood pellet biomass boiler (average size for a three-bedroom semi-detached house) will cost in the region of £15,000 fully installed.

Prices vary greatly for each installation and therefore these are very rough price estimates. Use the Free Quotes button at the bottom of the page to get free no-obligation quote estimates from all the installers operating in your area.

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Financial support is available to many energy efficiency and microgeneration measures. Support can be provided in two main types: capital grants and income subsidy. In the UK, support can come from either nationwide schemes or regional & local initiatives. More detail about the different support available is given below.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

Powers in the Energy Act 2008 allow the setting up of a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI can provide financial assistance to generators of renewable heat, and producers of renewable biogas and biomethane. Whilst the first phase of the scheme, i.e. long-term tariff support targeted at the non-domestic sectors, was introduced in July 2011, the second phase, i.e. the scheme's expansion to include more technologies as well as support for domestic households, has been delayed to align with the Green Deal, which is intended to be introduced in October 2012. See the DECC pages on renewable heat for more information.

The Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) is a grant scheme available since August 2011 to UK householders looking to invest in renewable heat installations, including solar thermal, heat pumps and biomass boilers. A summary of the scheme can be found on the DECC web site. Eligibility criteria can be found, and applications for grant payments under the scheme can be made, on the Energy Saving Trust (EST) web site.

As of 24 May 2010, the Low Carbon Building Programme (LCBP) is closed to all new applications. For more details click here.

Regional & Local Grants and Incentives

There are numerous regional & local grants and initiatives available as local government try to meet ambitions carbon reduction targets and other sources of funding, for example EU Rural Development Funding is targeted at sustainable development. Your local installers are best placed to access the latest information on these incentives. As part of the S&G Get a Quote function installers provide details on local incentives you may be eligible for in your area.

Alternatively you can contact your local authorities directly to try and source opportunities for support. Click here to find your local authority contact details.

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Planning Guidance

In Wales and Northern Ireland biomass heating systems are not permitted without planning permission under current planning law (under revision, see below). Planning permission will need to be applied for.

In England and Scotland Biomass heating systems are permitted unless:

  • Flue exceeds 1m above the roof height (excluding the chimney).
  • Installed on the principal elevation and visible from a road in buildings in Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites.
  • Flue situated within a smoke control zone (see below).
  • Additionally in Scotland: flue situated within an Air Quality Management Area.

Depending on the system type, the installation of a biomass system may or may not require some building extension. As biomass-heating systems are generally larger than traditional systems largely due to the increased volume of fuel stock, current boiler rooms may have to be extended in order to house the system. As with any extension or building work planning permission may be required.

Due to the fact that planning in the UK is a devolved responsibility, ease of the planning process depends entirely on your Local Planning Authority (LPA). Permitted development rights for microgeneration technologies are under consultation at the moment. See 'more on planning' below for details

If you get a no obligation quote through the S&G 'get a quote' function the local installers contacted will be able to advise you further. Alternatively you can check with your local planning authority (LPA) for details. The contact details of your LPA can be found by going here and entering your postcode.

More on planning click here

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Further Information
  • If you have any outstanding questions once you have looked at all the information pages relating to this technology, please write to us on and we will aim to get back to you with an answer ASAP.
  • You can also use the above email address to get in touch with our independent energy experts who will be more than happy to provide you with tailored project consultancy support if required. Click here to find out more about Save & Generate's Independent Energy Assessment services, or visit the S&G Energy Consultancy web site for more details on our consultancy services.
  • Our latest independent energy expert blogs on biomass provide further critical insights into developments within the industry and topics of current debate, including latest Government policy developments. Click here to read more.
Next steps to Save & Generate
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  • Make sure to review our info section on energy efficiency for options to reduce your energy consumption as far as feasible, as this will ultimately make the microgeneration equipment more economical for you.

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