You may decide that, if you are planning a large community heat project, managing woodland and processing your own woodfuel is not an option or priority for your group at this point in time.
If that’s the case, don’t worry. You can still use woodfuel from a sustainable local woodfuel supply chain by setting up a contract with a woodfuel supply company.
There are many good suppliers operating across the UK. You can start by checking out who can supply your preferred woodfuel to your area. Visit the National Biofuel Supply Database, managed by the Biomass Energy Centre and the Carbon Trust. If you need a source of woodfuel that meets the eligibility criteria of the Renewable Heat Incentive you will need to use a registered supplier. Suppliers will take many forms including community woodland or woodfuel initiatives and co-operatives who may be able to meet your woodfuel requirements.
Ensuring that whatever fuel you use is compatible with your biomass heating system is vital to the long-term success of your project. Your woodfuel supply will need to consistently meet the specific operational requirements of your heating system. Researching your fuel supply options and having discussions with potential fuel suppliers early on in your project planning can reduce operational risks and improve cost effectiveness.
You may be keen to involve local woodland owners in your project (perhaps there are woodland owners already active in your community group) but you don’t have the skills or resources to take on woodfuel production. Some woodfuel suppliers will happily work with you to assess the suitability of the woodland as a potential producer of wood that can be integrated into the woodfuel suppliers’ feedstock. Suppliers are often keen to bring on board new feedstock providers and the potential of a new local heat system may help.
Purchasing woodfuel isn’t quite as straight forward as setting up a contract for fossil fuels. However, woodfuel supply is a mature market and if you know where problems could occur, you are likely to be able to avoid them. Below are a range of issues to think about and to discuss with potential woodfuel suppliers and biomass boiler installers. Your decision on which supplier to move ahead with, after detailed feasibility is completed, is likely to be based on a review of cost, quality of product, reliability and reputation, proximity and appropriateness of delivery methods to the project.
Many woodfuel suppliers can offer a range of woodfuel products including logs, chip and pellet. In turn, chip will be available at various moisture contents and chip size depending on your system requirements.
Are you looking for a heat or fuel contract? Woodfuel supply contracts used to be based on delivered weight of woodfuel. With the improvement of heat meters (and the need for metering for the Renewable Heat Incentive), many woodfuel suppliers now offer heat contracts where you pay for heat produced. This means you are paying for the heat generated, providing incentive to woodfuel suppliers to provide a high quality, well-seasoned product that will deliver maximum energy output. Details such as number of deliveries, method of delivery and vehicle type should all be included in a formal agreement.
How many deliveries are needed will be influenced by access, fuel store type and location and, ultimately, by what vehicles are available. Get suppliers involved early on in the process so that your woodfuel store is as flexible as possible regarding delivery vehicles and access.
Modern wood fuelled boilers are carefully designed to burn particular qualities of woodfuel very efficiently - the fuel specification of a particular boiler will normally be specified on the boiler itself. There are many tasks in producing woodfuel in specific qualities, all of which add costs.
When purchasing woodfuel make sure you specify the quality required by your boiler. We recommend you seek several quotes. If a price quoted is significantly different to others we recommend you ask why. A very competitive price suggests some of the production and delivery costs are much lower or have not been incurred. This may be legitimate, for instance, a local suplier may incur lower cosst in delivery and may be interested in noegotiating a long term supply contract with local users.
Good suppliers will be able to provide references or testimonials from satisfied customers with similar requirements to your project. If you are developing a medium to large-scale heat network (>350kW), make sure the woodfuel supplier has evidenced capability and capacity to meet your fuel requirements.
As already discussed, woodfuel is varied in character and form. You will need to ensure that your supplier can provide you with the necessary standard and quality of fuel for your heating system. Failure to do so could lead to damage to your system. Ensure your fuel meets standards required by a nationally recognised assurance scheme such as Woodsure and include this requirement within your contract.
For your heating system to qualify for grants and incentives such as the Rural Community Energy Fund and the Renewable Heat Incentive you will need to source any woodfuel you are not producing yourself from a registered supplier.