Biomass – the benefits and pitfalls for heating your holiday home

Biomass Pellets from India - White coal.

By Kapilbutani , via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

With the summer season approaching it can seem somewhat premature to be thinking about heating your holiday home, say Boshers.  However, those whom have already been proactive in exploring and sourcing alternative heating technologies will be reaping the benefits not only this winter but for many to come.  

Keeping a cottage warm is an expensive business; crude oil is a depleting resource and one that has increased in price by more than 80% in the past five years.  These costs have been passed on to consumers and when combined with continually rising electricity prices are seeing the costs of running a holiday home perennially increasing.

Whilst for many cottages occupancy was once traditionally confined to the warmer summer months, more and more now have a heightened focus on filling ‘shoulder months’, transcending from seasonal to year-round enterprises.

This places an increased emphasis on reducing energy bills and the attraction of alternative, more sustainable technologies in order to maintain profitability.

We explore the potential of biomass energy for holiday homeowners.

What is biomass?

Biomass is a renewable energy that uses biological material from living, or recently living organisms in order to generate energy or to produce heat.

In the context of holiday homes this will most commonly be in the form of wood chips, pellets or other wood waste, with a boiler being placed inside a cottage, or in an external building from where larger boilers are able to heat multiple holiday homes.

What are the benefits of biomass energy for holiday homeowners?

Clean and carbon neutral

Biomass is a clean energy and virtually carbon neutral.  It is estimated that by replacing a coal or electric heating system with biomass the average household can reduce their carbon dioxide output by around 9.5 tonnes per annum.

Being green and sustainable is an area increasing numbers of visitors are not only interested in but passionate about; the World Tourism Organisation recently found that one in three people now consider the environmental credentials of their potential destination, with 40% willing to pay a premium to stay in such accommodation.

Less susceptible to price increases

As we’ve already said, oil is a depleting world resource and trends indicate its price is going to continue to rise over time.  As biomass fuel is largely taken from waste wood it doesn’t share the same price volatility as oil or electricity; it’s estimated that the forestry industry across the world is wasting enough biomass each year to heat 1,500,000 homes.

h3>Cost saving and the Renewable Heat Incentive

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is the world’s first long-term financial support programme for renewable heat and pays participants that generate and use renewable energy to heat their buildings.

The tariffs have been set at a level that reflects the expected cost of renewable heat generation over 20 years, meaning that whilst price fluctuations and rises are less likely than with oil and electricity, you’ll be protected from any potential increases.

In addition to the RHI it’s also worth noting that those adopting biomass have seen drops in heating costs in direct comparison to previous electricity or solid fuel bills.

The potential issues with biomass

Whilst biomass is a cleaner and greener alternative to other more carbon intensive heat sources, there are some disadvantages to its adoption for holiday homeowners.

Large implementation costs

Whilst potential cost savings can be made the initial outlay for the biomass boiler itself can be significant.  It’s estimated that the payback period is somewhere in the region of five to seven years.  This can be cost prohibitive for some to implement, although the longer term benefits will outweigh this issue if cash flow is available to implement the technology.

Higher levels of maintenance

It’s also worth noting that biomass boilers will need more space and care than traditional systems. The fuel will need to be stored either in a hopper or in bags, meaning that regular checking or refilling will need to be carried out by yourself or by your guests.

In order for the biomass boiler to perform at it’s utmost efficiency it will also need to be regularly cleaned; if this isn’t carried out the potential payback period for your boiler may lengthen.

If your holiday home is likely to be unoccupied for periods during the winter months you would be well to consider combining biomass with other sources of green and sustainable heating such as air source heat pumps which can be left running on thermostats with minimal maintenance. Keeping your holiday home warm whilst unoccupied has the obvious advantage of preventing burst pipes and the added advantage of reducing the likelihood of mold growth. It’s also important that you comply with the heating conditions specified in your holiday home insurance policy document and of course keep your property cosy for the next guests or indeed your own visit.

If you’re looking to implement biomass in your holiday home ensure that you consult a specialist in this area and give full thought to not only potential cost savings but also to implementation and maintenance.