Getting your biomass heating system winter-ready

14th October 2019

With long-range forecasts indicating that we could experience another ‘beast from the east’ this winter, now is the time to get ready for the heating season ahead. In previous years prolonged periods of cold weather have pushed up prices and impacted on wood fuel availability.

We’ve pulled together our five top tips to help your business or organisation stay warm this winter.

Securing supply and locking in prices is one half of the equation but forecasting the volume of fuel is equally important. Portfolio changes between one winter and the next means those responsible must regularly evaluate an organisation’s fuel requirements. Before or during the contract stage, it pays to check for changes to operational patterns, employee or resident numbers – a good biomass supplier can help to calculate accurate estimates to avoid having to purchase additional fuel out-of-contract.

Delivery and haulage costs are important too: increasing the size of a fuel store means fewer deliveries, which reduces costs. Haulage charges, which are typically built into the cost of pellet or chip, can be reduced by up to 15% by installing larger stores.

Clean and top up your fuel store

Get ahead of the game before demand increases and potentially leads to price spikes by stocking up on your wood pellet or chip now.

It is also worth getting your fuel store cleaned, which will help prevent dust from getting into your boiler. Doing this will pay dividends in getting the best performance from your biomass heating system. Regular store cleaning will help ensure the smooth and efficient running of your installation, as well as save costs on potential boiler breakdown issues.

It is always best and more cost-effective to let your fuel store run as low as possible before a clean or an extraction. So that means now is the perfect time to get that job done.

You may also want to consider getting expert advice on the size, location and design of your fuel store. Many biomass companies have in-house experts who can help with this. Could any of these things be improved, in turn, having a positive impact on the performance of your boiler?

Organise a regular supply of quality wood fuel

Don’t be left out in the cold this winter! Booking in regular deliveries will help ensure that you are never caught out or subject to price spikes during cold snaps when demand soars. During the ‘beast from the east’ in February/March 2018, spot prices for wood chip and pellet rose by an average of 10%, partly driven by growing demand.

To avoid costly exposure to market fluctuations, organisations can opt to fix biomass fuel supply costs through a fuel supply contract with a reputable biomass supplier. This will provide priority, guaranteed deliveries throughout the heating season.

Forecasting the volume of wood fuel needed is also important as this can fluctuate from one year to the next. Before or during the contract stage, it pays to check for changes to operational patterns, employee or resident numbers – a good biomass supplier can help to calculate accurate estimates to avoid having to purchase additional fuel out-of-contract.

Ensuring a good quality supply of wood fuel is one of the best things you can do to support optimal boiler performance. Wood pellet should meet the highest quality standard in Europe – ENplus A1 certification – which is audited by the European Pellet Council. Wood chip should also meet the highest possible standards to ensure the best quality and it should be Woodsure Plus Quality Assured.

If you are claiming the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the supplier must be on the Government’s official Biomass Suppliers List (BSL), which proves that the fuel has been produced legally and sustainably.

Sign up to expert service and maintenance

Before you crank up the boiler ahead of the colder weather, now is the perfect time to book in a service.

Commercial biomass boilers require more care and attention than oil and gas boilers so it is well worth signing up to a regular service and maintenance plan. Specialist engineers will optimise your boiler, helping to minimise downtime and maximise heat output. As well as planned maintenance, contracts should include emergency breakdown cover and access to a 24/7 support line. Regular servicing is also the best way to maximise your RHI payments.

You can get different care plans from annual/biannual to quarterly servicing. The number of times planned maintenance should be carried out depends on your organisation’s boiler usage levels, boiler types and boiler size. The company you use should be able to advise what is best for your heat installation.

Ofgem also requires that organisations look after their boilers in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations. If you don’t, you risk losing your RHI during an Ofgem audit. The best way to ensure you meet the obligations of the RHI is through a regular service and maintenance contract.

Maximise your RHI payments

If you’re already claiming the RHI but finding the ongoing paperwork an administrative burden, then you should consider getting expert help with this.

Ofgem require quarterly reports about an RHI registered boiler’s renewable heat production, along with notifications about any changes to circumstances – such as a change of bank account or personnel. Although these things might sound straight-forward, they can be quite time-consuming. Some companies can manage this ongoing paperwork for you, helping ensure you are not subject to any interruption to payments.

Under RHI rules you can also replace your boiler for a smaller or larger capacity one and continue to receive payments under the same terms of the original accreditation. Quite often heating requirements of commercial organisations change and the boiler becomes unfit for purpose.

Wrap up your complete heating needs with a Heat Contract

If this is all sounding like too much effort, why not choose a Heat Contract where your supplier will take care of the entire management of your biomass heating system?

Many companies offer Heat Contracts which include automated fuel supply, planned and reactive maintenance, and remote monitoring to proactively address potential issues. Expert engineers will also maximise your biomass systems availability and efficiency. You simply pay for the heat you use on a kWh basis and you can keep claiming your RHI.

Many organisations including local authorities, NHS boards, healthcare organisations, housing associations and businesses are now opting for Heat Contracts. By putting the complete care of your boiler into the hands of biomass experts you can concentrate on running your core business.

To find out more about AMP Clean Energy’s biomass fuel services visit: https://www.ampcleanenergy.com/biomass