Energy blog

Goodbye oil, Hello wood - part 3

Published by NickSted on 04 March 2012

Part 3  The Preparation


Getting a quote


I usually ask around but there aren’t any wood pellet boilers installed nearby.  In order to get the RHPP and the RHI (see Part 2 of the Blog) the installer must be MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) qualified.  The official website gives a list of MCS installers (http://www.microgenerationcertification.org/mcs-consumer/installer-search.php ) which you narrow down by selecting ‘biomass’ and then your postcode.  This seems to give about 20 within a 50 mile radius.  However, there are a number of different bodies able to issue MCS certificates such NAP (National Association of Professional Inspectors) or ELC (or Elecsa the Electrical Installers Association).  Now a boiler is a water heater and I would be more comfortable having a heating engineer with an MCS HET certificate issued by Hetas (the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme).  This narrowed the field down to 4 within 50 miles but two were close to the 50 mile limit. 


Why 50 miles?  Well the problem is getting them to come out to fix small problems after commissioning.  This narrowed the field down to 2, Vertdegree and Wessex Biomass (http://www.wessexbiomass.co.uk/ ), both of Chippenham.  The initial contact with both unfortunately only resulted in a response from the latter, which narrowed the field down to one - WB.  I contacted some further afield (Taunton and Tiverton) and got a response but no follow up.


A quotation means a full house survey covering existing pipework, electrics, insulation, heating demand and radiator system as well as building regs. and planning permission.  Also it covers space requirements and how the pellets are to be stored and delivered.  WB charge £250 + VAT for the survey but this is redeemable against the cost of the installation.  The survey was carried out soon after the initial contact and the quotation arrived soon after the survey. 


The design


The leaders in the biomass field are the Austrians and the Italians.  Grants of Devizes (one of the leading oil boiler manufacturers) are in the process of making a wood pellet boiler but haven’t got there yet and certainly haven’t built up a track record.


WB recommended the slightly cheaper Italian MCZ Red365 Compact 24 with a max. 25.4 kW output (http://www.red365.it/en/p229-compact.html ) over the more expensive Austrian Windhager Biowin (http://www.windhager.co.uk/products/index/view/categoryID/1/productsID/11 ).  The Compact 24 boiler costs around £4000 but together with all pipework, electrics, 5m flue and commissioning this more than doubles.   

Unfortunately our main electricity board, which was state-of-the-art in 1968, was too antiquated to allow them to sign off the job so that had to be replaced.   Also our existing radiator system is gravity fed and would have to be changed to a pressurised 1 bar system.


It also became clear that we needed a bigger fuel store as the boiler could only hold 70kg (less than 3 days in really cold weather) and would need filling every day -  no good if you want to go away for a few days in the middle of winter.  We added on a 200kg adjacent hopper automatically feeding into the boiler’s hopper via an augur.  This will give up to 10 days unattended operation in the coldest weather.


The grand total including VAT came to about £12,000.  VAT for the whole job is at the lower rate of 5%.  The quote was accepted providing it could be completed before 1st April, the deadline for the current RHPP grant of £950.  The RHI Phase 2 hasn’t been declared yet so it is something of a gamble as Governments have been known to do U-turns.


Quite a lot of money so it was off to the Building Soc. cap in hand!


Clearing the decks


Now the fun starts.  I have a nearly double length flat roofed garage adjacent to the utility room where the existing boiler sits.  Unfortunately it was full, and so was the fairly large loft, and so was the house.  I throw almost nothing away as there is always a chance it has a second life. Here is how the garage looked:



After 3 trips to the dump with a full high sided trailer, and two trips to Kennet Refurbiz recycling in Devizes (http://www.refurbiz.org/ )and nearly thee weeks later here is how it looked:




The board shows the expected height of the boiler and the marks on the floor the location of the boiler and feed hopper just at the bottom of the picture.


Here is our old electricity board with new Solar PV controls on the right:


Getting the fuel in


Not too many nearby suppliers.  Forever Fuels in Maidenhead and White Horse in Newbury both claim to source from Andover and Bristol.  About 20% of the fuel cost is the delivery charge so the more you can order and store in one go, the better.  I just ordered 1 tonne to start with.  Here is how it looked:


Incidentally, the machinery to make your own wood pellets is not too expensive and a few houses on pellets could justify the equipment.  You need a good source of wood, a chipping machine, a drier, an extruder and a means of  bagging (and a bit of time).  No added ingredients (except some vegetable oil is suggested).  The energy cost of making pellets is about 2% of its fuel value (which compares with something like 35% for heating oil).


All ready to go ---> see Blog 4 The Installation