Are Biomass Boilers Better Than Solar Energy?
Making The Right Choice For Renewable Energy
Discussing the benefits of renewable energy systems especially biomass boilers. How they can save money and reduce a home or businesses carbon footprint.
There’s been a significant move away from the sole use of fossil fuel heating systems such as electricity, coal and gas with the advent of renewable energy options. The use of biomass boilers, where renewable supplies such as wood chipping is used for fuel, and solar power using sunlight as a natural heating energy source, have gained much traction in recent times.
Is one better than the other or is it possible to consider both?
They are fuelled using untreated wood, wood pellets or wood chips. They can be fed automatically, unlike log burners where fuel has to be manually added as required, and these boilers can be used to provide central heating or hot water. They tend to be supplied and fitted by specialist biomass boiler experts.
Biomass heating is suitable for both commercial and residential purposes; indeed, there is an incentive for commercial use of renewable energy in the form of the Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). It’s basically a Government-run environmental programme to encourage the increased use of renewable heating energy; broadly speaking it does this by providing a subsidy to those installing renewable energy equipment.
Suitable storage for the fuel has to be provided of course, so consideration of space and type of space (for example, dry so as not to dampen the wood-based fuel) has to be made. Also, consideration as to the proximity of fuel suppliers needs to be given so as to protect against running out of fuel.
It’s highly likely cost savings would be made in terms of fuel compared to fossil-based alternatives, and wood-based fuels are far less susceptible to price variations compared to gas, electricity and oil. Biomass boilers are far more environmentally friendly in terms of CO2 emissions.
Usually mounted on the roofs of properties to maximise their ‘sunshine gathering’ potential, these convert sunlight to heat so providing energy from a completely natural and therefore highly renewable source.
It’s possible to heat hot water throughout the summer months without using the boiler, although periods where less sun is present – always possible with the UK variable summer climate – may not make for enough natural energy to be generated. In these cases, the boiler would kick in and it’s common to programme the boiler to intervene when the water temperature drops to a certain level.
While there would be the initial investment of installing solar panels, over a period of time costs would likely be recouped as money isn’t being spent on fossil fuels. That said, it’s unlikely that solar panels can provide all year round heat energy so the use of a boiler is likely to be required at certain times.
As with the biomass boiler, solar panel use could make a commercial business or organisation eligible for the RHI as discussed above.
Best of Both Worlds?
With the major weakness of solar power being the lack of enough sunshine days per year in the UK, a combined solar and biomass boiler system would work well together. The biomass boiler could ‘take up the slack’ when the solar panels can’t provide enough heat energy, and the householder or commercial enterprise is still making the most of renewable energy. Long term cost savings are assured not to mention a far smaller carbon footprint than for homes or businesses heated by fossil fuel systems.
If choosing one over the other, a biomass boiler would both provide renewable energy and be able to do so year round, unlike solar panels.
Sean Casey is the director of Terra Therma. His company specialises in the installation of green energy solutions, such as underfloor heating and heat pumps, using the latest technology to provide the most efficient systems for his customers.