Part 3 of building a carbon neutral distillery – meeting the energy challenge.

Steam from biomass – making it work

Biomass – the practicalities

Many have tried to run a distillery from a biomass boiler; some have struggled; and a few have failed, given up and gone home… but others have succeeded, and the industry has learnt from all of these examples – good and bad. 

The overriding priority when considering biomass for a distillery is to make sure it’s done safely. Distillery operators are expert in managing the hazards they are familiar with, including those associated with oil and gas fuelling, but biomass presents different hazards – often unfamiliar to distillers. Seeking expert support in the design, commissioning and operation of the boiler system is therefore essential.

The introduction of the RHI tempted lots of people into the sector – not all of them expert in the hazards or practicalities of biomass boiler systems. The flood of installations in the following years led to a significant number of installations which were not up to standard, including some dangerous examples. This resulted in some newsworthy accidents and tarnished the reputation of the sector as a whole. The cowboys who dominated the sector at its peak have mostly left town, but they left behind a legacy of poorly designed and under-performing biomass systems.

However, this shouldn’t be viewed as a failing on the part of biomass as a low carbon technology, but the result of an incentive scheme which was as poorly designed as some of the installations it triggered. Most of the companies still in the biomass sector know and understand the hazards, and how a project should be designed and implemented safely. The Combustion Engineering Association’s BG05 “Guidance on the Design and Operation of Biomass Systems” is a great place to get an appreciation of the types of hazards I refer to here.

As well as a safe boiler, distillers want a boiler that works in their application, and without applying specific knowledge, there are some well-known ways a biomass boiler can struggle in distillery service.

Offsite fabrication of a biomass steam boiler plant

Timing is everything

As anyone who’s sat round a campfire knows, there’s a delay between putting a log on the fire and feeling the benefit of it. It’s a characteristic of all solid fuels, and this delay certainly isn’t ideal in a distillery application – when the operator asks for steam to the still, he means now, not in 20 minutes. There is a similar problem when the still run is complete – the fuel on the grate continues to burn, and the heat may be wasted if the distillery doesn’t need it at that specific moment. 

In an attempt to cater for distilleries’ notoriously “peaky” steam demand, many biomass boilers have been fitted in parallel (duty/assist) with the existing fossil fired boiler. Typically, the design intent was for the biomass boiler to provide the base load, leaving the fossil fuelled boiler to pick up the peaks in demand. However, the limited turndown capacity of boilers can mean that the fossil boiler spends a lot of time on minimum fire, taking a large part of the distillery’s demand, reducing the fossil fuel displacement and actually leaving the peaks to be taken up either by the biomass system or by the fossil boiler cycling on and off. Neither is ideal.

In partnership with engineers in continental Europe who have been designing biomass systems for over 50 years, re:heat have implemented and proven a number of techniques for controlling the fire in the furnace and the boiler pressure to iron-out the mismatch between steam supply and demand. This means the peaks and troughs which are common in distillery applications can be met by a single biomass boiler – without the need for backup plant.

When foul isn’t fair

Gas boilers hardly ever need cleaning, oil boilers maybe once a year. Biomass boilers which are not properly controlled can need much more frequent cleaning due to build-up of tar or soot in the furnace or boiler, particularly when they are burning “difficult” fuels such as wet woodchip or draff.

Furred boiler tubes from running a dry wood boiler on wet fuel

If a “difficult” fuel is readily available at a low cost, then regular cleaning may be justifiable, but in a well-designed biomass boiler system, cleaning twice a year is adequate for most industrial users.

A low carbon footprint can come with a big actual footprint…

It’s an inescapable fact that a biomass store is bigger than an oil tank or a gas governor. If your site is tight, then it might be a struggle to fit a biomass system onto it, but there are usually approaches which can be adopted to manage this. For example, it may be that the fuel supply chain could be tweaked to minimise on-site storage space requirement, or it might be an application for a pellet fired boiler. Certified sustainable pellets are widely available from manufacturers in the UK, which will keep your environmental credentials intact.

It sounds obvious, but a good fuel supply is crucial to successful operation of a biomass boiler. Less obvious is that the fuel supply should be planned out well before the boiler is operational. The biomass fuel supply chain can be daunting to those unfamiliar with it, but don’t worry – there are plenty of people out there who can make it work for you. It doesn’t need to be any more difficult than buying oil, but there are some bear traps to avoid and forward planning will save stress, time and cost.

Biomass boiler plant room under construction, Brora Distillery, October 2020

Summary

There’s no getting away from the fact that distilling is an energy intensive process, and that up to 90% of all the energy used in a distillery can be in the form of steam and heat. You can certainly reduce the energy demand by implementing heat recovery strategies, but there is always going to be a need for heat input. No single heat supply solution is the right one for every application, and no single solution can provide for the whole industry. 

It’s clear, however, that biomass-fired boilers are one of the most technically and economically viable options currently available, and in many cases the only low carbon option which is likely to work for a distillery. Properly designed systems which use high quality equipment and proven technology can be the beating heart of a distillery, and with a realistic lifespan of 25 years or more on the right boiler, it’s important to get it right.

re:heat’s senior team includes forestry, biomass boiler and distillery engineering professionals, meaning we’re ideally placed to assess or implement a biomass-fired solution for your distillery, or to advise on any aspect of the project lifecycle through our consultancy arm. So, if you’re still burning dinosaurs to make whisky, then call us – we can help.

Building a carbon neutral distillery… meeting the energy challenge.

Our Principal Engineer, Andrew McGhee applies his 25 years of energy sector and distillery engineering experience to look at some of the answers.

We all know that emissions of CO2 have to be greatly reduced over the next very few years, and that distillers everywhere are working hard on how to achieve this.  The latest Environmental Strategy Report from the Scotch Whisky Association shows the distilling industry leading the charge, reporting that the 2020 target for reducing fossil fuel use has been smashed, with 28% of primary energy now coming from non-fossil fuels.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that distilling is an energy intensive process, so what is the beleaguered energy or environment manager to do?  The good news is that there are lots of options out there.  That’s also the bad news – because no single one of these options is “the best” in every situation.  So there’s a need for careful assessment (by that beleaguered energy manager) on a case-by-case basis.  We at re:heat – biomass installers and low carbon heat consultants – believe that there is a place for all of the options; that no individual option can do it all. If anyone tells you that that theirs is the best solution in every case, then you’re clearly talking to a salesman – not an engineer or sustainable energy professional.

Maximising energy efficiency across every stage of a process should be a given. Your insulation should be good, your steam leaks should be eliminated, and waste heat should be recovered and beneficially reused wherever practicable.  Apart from that, there are dozens of ways of reducing energy use, from the cheap & simple to the hugely complex and expensive.  Which ones are justified (or justifiable) on any particular site depends on the size of the site and the price of your energy, amongst other things.  But one universal truth is that however much you work on energy efficiency improvement, you’re still going to need a source of energy which is as close to zero carbon as possible.

So, what are the main options for carbon neutral heat?

Electrification.  It’s perfectly possible to generate heat from electricity – either directly or by using a heat pump.  Electrical heat is clean and easy – we use it every time we make a cup of tea or coffee.  Some will tell you it’s 100% efficient, but of course that is misleading.  The main problems with electrical heat are that it’s expensive, and the UK’s power grid simply can’t support generation and distribution on the scale required to fully decarbonise our heat, not to mention our transport.

The price problem can be reduced with high temperature (steam raising) heat pumps, however, they’re not widely used or proven yet in industrial applications.  Also, to qualify for RHI support, heat pumps can only use air or ground source – not waste process heat, and air/ground source high temperature heat pumps have low coefficients of performance due to the high temperature uplift required.

The other broader problem with the electrification of heat is a looming power generation squeeze in the UK.  Six of the UK’s 7 existing nuclear power stations and all of the coal fired stations are expected to shut down within the next 10 years, although there should be a new nuclear plant coming online soon – Hinkley C in Somerset, which is projected to begin providing power to the grid in around 2026, and will provide around 7% of the UK’s electricity needs.  But with the UK’s current nuclear fleet providing around 20%, you can see the problem.  Add to that an increasing demand from the electrification of transport, and the power squeeze is apparent.

Increased renewable generation – especially offshore wind – will fill some of the gap, but it’s doubtful whether the grid (generation or distribution) can support the widespread deployment of heat electrification without huge infrastructure investment.  Electrification of heat could be viable if you can generate power locally – tidal power on Islay or Scapa Flow for example, but these sorts of options are limited in scope and scale.  So, there is a place for some electrification of heat, but it is by no means the panacea for the 2020’s that some claim.

Hydrogen. Great fuel, zero emissions – what’s not to like?  Well, there is currently nowhere near enough of it to go round!  You can make it from water and electricity, but the poor energy conversion efficiency means you would be better off just using the electricity directly.  Really, hydrogen is an energy storage medium – not an energy source.  It’s also very expensive at the moment.  

As the hydrogen market develops over the next few years, supply will increase and prices will drop, but it’s probably a decade or more away from helping that poor energy manager, and the UK government has big ambitions for using hydrogen in the existing fossil gas grid.  The hydrogen industry needs support because it’s certainly a part of the future energy mix, but it’s not ready to help many people with 2030 emissions targets to meet, particularly if they’re off the gas grid.

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Biomass. People have been burning wood for thousands of years to raise heat, and in 2020 it still constitutes the world’s largest non-fossil source of energy.  It’s renewable, the technology is proven, there’s an established supply chain, and you can have a system up and running in a year.

As this opinion is coming from a biomass company, you’d expect us to claim that it’s the answer to everything, right?  Well, no, we don’t think it’s for everyone.  Again, there’s not enough wood available at present to cater for the entire distilling sector, and you really want to be in an area with an established forestry and wood products industry, because wood fuel is bulky. We wouldn’t recommend it in Shetland for example, but there’s no escaping the fact that wood is without doubt one of the most cost-effective emission reduction strategies which can be implemented at scale now. We’ll come to the debate about whether using wood is really helping lower CO2 emissions in part 2.

Biogas / bio-propane.  Both natural gas and LPG (propane) can be manufactured from biogenic origins, so that the CO2 released on combustion has previously been drawn from the atmosphere by plants. Both are chemically identical to their fossil equivalents, but again (are you getting the pattern yet?) there is not enough of either material available to satisfy the needs of the whole distilling industry.

Vegetable oils can also displace fuel oil in boilers for steam generation.  Some oils are cost competitive with fossil oil and proven in industrial application.  They do have one or two operational problems, but nothing that can’t be overcome.  However, the supply of vegetable fuels oil is very limited, and heat users will have to compete with the transport sector for the available resource.

Geothermal energy.  The deeper you drill, the hotter it gets.  Unfortunately, to get steam you have to go really deep, and the upfront capital cost gets quite daunting.  If you have a distillery in Iceland or Turkey, you probably know about this already, but there are a few areas in the UK with real geothermal potential. Worth checking out, but entirely dependent on local geology.

Biogenic carbon capture. For every 100 tonnes of CO2 which goes up the chimney from the boiler, over 30 tonnes is vented cold and pure from the fermentation process. That cold pure CO2 is ideal for re-use or sequestration.  You have to be careful where that CO2 goes, but with geological sequestration projects alive and kicking in the UK, there is potential there. Unfortunately, it’s probably too far out for your 2030 targets, but do I dare suggest that whisky production could viably have negative emissions in the future by making use of this mechanism?

Alternative raw materials.  Pea gin anyone?  A tip of the hat to Arbikie Distillery in Angus, but this is probably not able to be rolled out on a large scale – and definitely not in the making of scotch whisky!

The main point here is that there isn’t enough of any one of these resources to supply all of Scotland’s distilleries.  Most or all of these solutions are required if the industry – and not just individual distilleries – is to achieve carbon neutrality.

re:heat offer biomass solutions which are widely deployed and well proven in the distilling sector, so that’s what we’ll focus on in part 2 of this post, coming soon.

Email andrew@reheat.uk.com to find out more about carbon neutral distilling and the solutions on offer.

COVID-19 RE:HEAT ASSISTING SCOTTISH GOVT.

re:heat have had an urgent request from the Scottish Government to monitor the health and robustness of the wood fuel supply chain to meet the heating needs of wood fuel users in Scotland in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
We are gathering opinion from a range of companies involved in the biomass fuel supply chain in Scotland and I’d like to ask for your input to that process. We then collate that information for the Scottish Government to keep them abreast of the state of the market. Ultimately this is to ensure continuity of fuel supply for users dependent on wood fuel – for example there are a number of care homes, hospitals etc which are dependent on either chip or pellet supplies for their heating needs. This process also allows the industry to let government know what help and support is needed.
 
Can we ask for your input / opinion please, as follows –

  1. Are you aware of any immediate impacts of the Covid 19 outbreak on supply chains, e.g. staff off sick, contractors being denied access to sites, etc.
  2. What impact, if any, do you think the outbreak will have on woodfuel supply chains from the forest to end users? What impact is this having / do you expect it to have on price?
  3. Where do you think there might be any particular pinch points?
  4. What plans are you putting in place to protect your own staff and to ensure business continuity?
  5. Any other useful thoughts or comments?


Please note that this provides an excellent opportunity to let the government know what the industry needs. Please take advantage of this opportunity to support our industry through this difficult time by replying to this consultation request. Participants will be emailed a redacted copy of the memo for information.
 
Thanks in anticipation of your input. For more information, or to respond to the consultation, please email:

covid19@reheat.uk.com
 
re:heat

Barkers of Northallerton on choosing biomass and re:heat

Barkers Distribution Centre

Barkers of Northallerton is going green with a custom designed, environmentally friendly heating system, thanks to the expertise of Alnwick firm, re:heat.

The Barkers Home store on Yafforth Road is renowned across North Yorkshire and beyond for selling exceptional furniture, furnishings and fittings. Deliveries are a vital part of the operation and that’s where the Distribution Warehouse on Standard Way in Northallerton comes in.

Sean Spence, Distribution Manager, explains “We wanted an environmentally friendly heating system to maintain the ideal, constant temperature for furniture storage. re:heat, North East based biomass energy specialists and Heating engineer Gary Oliver, from Darlington, worked together to design and install a 350kW woodchip boiler, creating one of the most sophisticated furniture storage and handling facilities in the country.”

Ben Tansey of re:heat said “Working with Barkers and with Gary was fantastic. We were delighted to get the opportunity to team up with this iconic local firm. The new boiler is working perfectly and it’s great to hear that the distribution centre team are pleased with it too.”

Gary Oliver, Managing Director of G A Oliver Ltd, agreed saying“Barkers were a pleasure to work with and the project went extremely well.”

Find out more about what Barkers has to offer by visiting the website: www.barkers.co.uk. Gary Oliver and his team can be reached online at www.gaoliver.co.uk.

Neil Harrison and Ben Tansey founded re:heat in 2011 to assist businesses of all sizes with converting to sustainable, low carbon wood fuel heating systems

Modern heating developments take centre stage at National Trust property

Wallington Hall re-sized

The public is invited to find out more about the National Trust’s progress in substantially reducing carbon emissions at its properties.

The historic mansion house and gardens of Wallington Hall estate in Northumberland have seen some dramatic changes behind the scenes over the past few months. The Wallington biomass district heating scheme involves introducing the very latest in green technology to the 17th century premises, a development which supports the National Trust’s environmental commitments.

The Trust aims to substantially reduce carbon emissions at its properties by switching to more renewable energy sources and to deliver 50 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

On Thursday 6 July, the Wallington estate will hold an open day to allow the public to see more of this complex and ambitious project. The cutting-edge scheme has seen the installation of two 130kw wood pellet fired biomass boilers, which now provide heat and hot water to the main hall, estate cottages, offices, gift shop and café.

The open day coincides with other events to mark Community Energy Fortnight (24 June – 9 July) and the Climate Coalition’s Week of Action (1 – 9 July), under what is being called the ‘Powering Together’ initiative. The aim is to highlight and explore how the community energy sector is working together to ensure energy is efficiently used, generated renewably and any benefits produced shared locally.

The work at Wallington has been carried out by North East-based biomass specialist, re:heat which was appointed by the National Trust in December 2016 to remove the estate’s inefficient oil fired boilers and install the renewable fueled heating and hot water system. It is not the first time that re:heat has worked with the National Trust, having installed two wood pellet fired biomass boilers at Nunnington Hall, near York, in summer 2016.

Ben Tansey, re:heat director, said:

“We were delighted to be working with the National Trust again and this has been an exciting project to be involved with. Wallington is a sensitive site, steeped in history, so there were some unique challenges to overcome to provide the best possible heating solution without adversely impacting on the existing building and grounds.

“We’re pleased with what we have been able to accomplish here and the benefits that the new system will provide the National Trust long term.”

National Trust project manager, Adrian Fox, said:

“In addition to reducing impact on the environment by removing the oil powered heating systems, switching to biomass affords us a level of security in no longer responding to fluctuating oil prices and the money saved can be used in the continued conservation of the property.”

If you are interested in the open day and would like to find out more, please call re:heat on 01665 665 040 or email hello@reheat.uk.com.

 

Biomass Engineer Vacancy

A new opportunity has arisen with re:heat.  Ideally based in Northumberland, but working across the UK, we are looking for a Biomass Engineer with 3 or more years previous experience and an electrical bias.  The ideal candidate will be able to contribute enthusiastically to the wide variety of opportunities that re:heat are actively working on – from boiler installations through to consultancy, and providing first class support to our many customers across the north of England and Scotland.

The successful candidate would be primarily based at our office in Alnwick, but be willing and able to travel as required by the role.  We would also consider suitable candidates who may not be based in, or be willing to relocate to Northumberland.

The duties of the Biomass Engineer will include :

  • Installation and commissioning of biomass boilers throughout the UK.
  • Providing phone support to customers and other engineers working on fault finding.
  • Working on domestic, commercial and industrial biomass boilers.
  • Working independently for small commercial and domestic jobs.
  • Working as part of a team to assist in the installation of large commercial and industrial projects.
  • Carrying out programmes of remedial work on third party installations.
  • Servicing and maintaining customers’ biomass boilers.

For the role of Biomass Engineer, the candidate is expected to :

  • Ideally, have prior experience of installation and commissioning of biomass boilers.
  • Be electrically biased, and be able to fault find electrical and control systems.
  • Be experienced on biomass boiler controls and their integration with heating control systems.
  • Be prepared to work long hours when necessary, as well as travel throughout the UK.

Candidates with experience of working on ETA, Fröling and Herz equipment would be at a particular advantage, but we work with a wide range of systems from other manufacturers, and full  training would be provided.

If you would be interested in joining a small, friendly company with an excellent reputation, and growing within the biomass industry, please contact Ben Tansey (ben@reheat.uk.com) for an informal and confidential discussion.

We offer a competitive salary and contributory pension scheme, training with leading manufacturers and a varied and stimulating work environment.

The 2016 non-domestic RHI reform and biomass heat

I think any comments about the RHI reform should start with the point that we are very lucky to have a 20 year output-based, state funded support mechanism for renewable heat.  Whatever its foibles and whatever our quibbles; its better than not having state funded support; it has made a major difference and will continue to do so.

The background to the reforms was that in November 2015 Government renewed its commitment to the ‘transition to a low carbon economy’ by confirming a continued budget for the RHI out to 2020/21.  This left the biomass industry hanging, and it wasn’t until March 2016 that Government set out its initial proposals for RHI reform.  Then finally on 14th December 2016, it published proposals for reform of the scheme following its consultation. These reforms will be implemented in April 2017.

Those 12 months of uncertainty have been unhelpful to say the least.  But as Government puts it :

By confirming the available budget up to 2020/21 and setting out a number of reforms to how the scheme will operate, the RHI now provides the level of certainty needed for consumers and industry to invest in renewable heating and for the market to transition towards being sustainable without Government support in future’.

It is of course most welcome that the proposed RHI reform is published and uncertainty has been removed.  This in itself will probably stimulate new investment and no doubt activate some dormant projects.  Although it is ironic that a scheme designed to grow renewable heat created uncertainty and reduced investment for a whole year.

The final comment ‘without Government support in the future’ is a clear signal that the RHI is not likely to be around after 2021, but as even mature biomass sectors elsewhere in Europe still benefit from support, there will need to be something post 2021.

In more specific terms, the reforms offer two things of note in terms of biomass heat :

  • Tariff guarantees, offering investors greater certainty regarding their tariffs earlier in the project cycle;
  • The three current biomass tariff bands will be replaced with a single tariff, which will be subject to tiering.  The Tier 1 tariff will be set at 2.91p/kWh and the Tier 2 tariff at 2.05p/kWh. Each plant will have a tier threshold equivalent to a 35% load factor.

My own immediate reaction was these reforms spell would spell the end of smaller biomass projects in mains gas areas and that only projects above 1MW would be strongly viable. But the 35% load factor is a more significant change than is first apparent.

Under the new single tariff and a 35% load factor the capacity of the biomass boiler is not such a good indicator of the viability as it was under the three bands of payments.

What will matter now is higher stable heat loads that get to the 3,000 full load hours. For example a 200kW scheme providing 600MWh of total annual heat (a small or medium sized secondary school for example) will get £17,500 a year RHI income.  Remember under the old scheme a 199KW scheme delivering 1,314 run hours got £8,106 a year RHI income: its all about ‘sweating the asset’.

It will be interesting to see how designers and installers go about getting to 3,000 run hours, and this will have significant implications for the sizing and specification of equipment that is capable and warrantied for longer harder working hours.  But actually it feels a sensible move in terms of directing investment and design/specification choices to make the most difference.  It will certainly be better than the 3 bands it replaces.

Furthermore the impact of the reforms above 1MW is unambiguously positive compared to before, so despite my initial reaction, I find myself wishing to congratulate the team who delivered the RHI reform.  Maybe there is even scope for a little focus of quality standards as we move forward?

 

The full RHI reform document is available to download here.

Delivering Renewable Heat – what have targets got to do with it?

Renewable Heat Targets by Steve Luker, Principal Consultant

Back in 2009 we set ourselves some very interesting renewables targets for 2020.  I never quite forgot them, but maybe others did? Theoretically of course they are binding, and you’ll certainly never hear a politician express a scintilla of doubt about this or that policy that will help us meet these targets.  But they get closer everyday.

So as we are only 4 years away, I wanted to examine where we are with the Renewable Heat Target and the role of biomass heat in delivering this.  For this blog I decided to focus on Scotland, as there is some interesting new data that allows a clear focus on this.

For some reason never made clear to me, the Scottish Renewable Heat Target for 2020 is 11%, whereas the UKs target is 12%.  If anyone knows why I’d be interested.

Beyond the obvious question of whether we will actually meet the 11% target, it’s particularly interesting as the Scottish Government is embarking on an energy review and is setting out its objectives for post-2020.  Here’s my attempt to make sense of where we are now.

What do our Renewable Heat Targets imply?

If the Scottish Renewable Heat Target is going to be met by 2020, then 6,420GWhs of annual renewable heat output are needed by that date. At present, Scotland produces 3,031GWhs of renewable heat annually.  Biomass heat contributes 1,716GWhs of that total at present, and biomass CHP contributes most of the rest.

We can roughly calculate how many heat only biomass installations 1,716GWhs is equal to, as each MW of installed capacity provides around 2,600MWhs of heat output.  On that basis, the current biomass heat output represents roughly 660MW’s of installed capacity.  If it is helpful, that’s a bit like 1½ Eon Lockerbie biomass power stations spread over several thousand schools, care homes, swimming pools, rural estates and hospitals.

In present day cash terms it represents £561 million of investment in renewable heat capacity, which I’d say has taken around 15 years to deliver.  A great achievement, if somewhat modest compared to many other northern European countries.

Now, here’s the important bit:

If we simply assume biomass heat will constitute the same proportion of our renewable heat in 2020 (57%), and that the 6,420GWhs of heat is actually provided (the 11% target); then an additional 2,000GWhs of biomass heat must be provided by 2020.  I should say to assume biomass CHP provides a bit more is perfectly reasonable, but if you ‘do the math’ on all other forms of renewable heat (heat pumps and AD), you’ll quickly see they can’t deliver anything like what is needed – never mind making up any biomass shortfall.  In other words, biomass heat may well need to be more than 57%, but lets stick with this figure for now…

192 New MW a Year

So biomass heat has a key role to play in meeting our Renewable Heat Target, and for modelling purposes this can be split into 4 years, which requires 500GWhs of biomass heat output to be added annually.

That means 192MWs of new installed capacity must be added each year for 4 years.

Having got this far, I began to sense a ‘few issues’ about the scale of that challenge…

We know that 1MW of good quality biomass heat capacity costs about £850,000 to install.  As we need 192MWs a year, that requires annual capital investment to run at £163 million for 4 years in row, and £652 million in total : more than has been achieved in the last 15 years combined.

If we assume an average installation size of 250kW, it means 768 installation contracts a year, each worth about £212,500.  Bringing that down to monthly figures it comes to 64 installs a month with a monthly spend rate of £13.6 million.

Typically, each MW of biomass heat capacity creates 2 FTE jobs, so around 1,500 new jobs would be created if 2,000GWhs of biomass heat were produced. In employment terms that would make the sector over 10 times bigger than it is now.

Each scheme will take around 4 to 6 months to plan, design and install. Biomass heat installs require a range of design and contracting skills in M&E, civils, architecture, engineering and a co-ordination expert in biomass to oversee this.

Can we achieve our targets?

There are no reliable figures on how many companies are involved in the design and installation of biomass heat just now.  My own guess is that we have around 10 to 15 specialist biomass companies based in or operating in Scotland, with fewer than 150 direct employees in total. Many others are involved in services like M&E design and civils works, and get involved biomass heat installations alongside their day to day civils contracting, heating and plumbing etc.

Total sector capacity could probably expand quite quickly, but key skills shortages in specialist areas like biomass boiler specification/commissioning and fuel handling  system design will hamper progress.  However, even if demand were to actually run at 64 x 250kW installs a month, it is hard to see how the required capacity could be mobilised sufficiently quickly (i.e. early on in the 4 years we have remaining).

I have reached the clear conclusion that unless things change, the Scottish Government will fall way short of its 2020 renewable heat target.  I do have some thoughts on what could be done to help.  More to follow next week…