With the continuing increase in the cost of oil and the need to reduce carbon emission it was decided in 2005 to investigate alternative heating methods using a biomass fuel. Several options were considered and, in the end, woodchip was preferred, taking into account availability of fuel and the technical knowledge of burning this fuel in Europe.
Kernock Park Plants first 3MW centralised biomass boiler was installed in 2006. At that time there was little known about the use of burning biomass fuels as an alternative to fossil fuel. In many respects we were treated as Guinea Pigs and a steep learning curve in the use of chip wood ensued over the next three years. Mistakes were made in the quality of wood, moisture content and operational controls. It was soon obvious, however, that big savings could be made by burning wood in place of the previous light oil used. In a season 600,000 litres of oil was consumed and this was replaced by 2000 tonnes of air dried wood.
Over the years biomass burning has come to the fore and promoted by the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive, run by Ofgem, announced in 2011. Improved technology, together with a better understanding of the use of biomass, has meant a huge interest in all non-fossil fuels, which is aimed at being Carbon neutral as part of reducing the nations Glasshouse gasses.
In 2012 a further 1MW boiler was installed which meant we had a back-up in case of breakdown and rely almost entirely on biomass for the expanded glasshouse area. This installation had the advantage of Ofgem support through the RHI scheme.
The Government have announced that the RHI scheme will cease in 2021 having 'kick started' the interest and technical knowledge in biomass fuels. That prompted Kernock Park Plants to consider replacing the original 3MW boiler with a new boiler, which was nearly at the end of its useful life, by one of the same size. The new boiler, a Valmaggi from Italy, was installed in 2019 and works in conjunction with the older, Uniconfort, 1MW boiler.
With the intense interest over the 14 years since using biomass fuel, it has inevitably meant the cost of fuel has risen dramatically. That is, of course, an advantage to the forester of extra income from wood that was previously considered waste and an incentive to long term investment by re-planting. The earlier advantage of cheaper heating remains true in most situations but the cost of installation, long term security of the right fuel and maintenance has to be considered when thinking of biomass in the future. The new European rules on flue emission has a significant increase in installation cost, which all biomass installations will have to adhere to by 2030 by a retrofit. New installations will require careful consideration of investment and the alternatives available. Whatever the fuel, it is fairly certain that all sources will become more expensive and further concentration on heat conservation and alternatives, such as ground or water source and even geothermal heat, will need investigating.
The whole question of heating is an ever changing one dependant on fuel used, emissions permitted and Government regulations to achieve a neutral CO2 environment by 2050. Watch for an update on this around 2025! If anyone needs further information on Kernock Park Plants use of biomass heating please make contact.
Kernock Park Plants was one of the first to take advantage of RHI for biomass boilers by supplementing the first boiler described above with a 995kWhr boiler. The accreditation was done through Ofgem and a number of strict rules are applied before any payments are made. The Italian made Uniconfort boiler is very efficient and works almost non stop through the winter months.