Do you get steamed up by a biomass boiler, or bask in the glow of a solar panel? There are so many new technologies to choose from when it comes to heating the home, with both environmental and financial implications.

Ashley Johnson, Managing Director of The Good Fuel Company in Barnstaple, has seen a large increase in requests for carbon-neutral biomass boilers in the last three years, as the primary source for providing heat and hot water. He puts this down to, in part, government policy and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI provides incentives for consumers to install renewable heating in place of fossil fuels, and is relevant to both individuals and businesses. “In effect, almost every installation will see the cost of install completely refunded through the scheme over its seven-year duration and, in most cases, will receive surplus revenue that can subsidise the ongoing fuel or maintenance costs,” says Ashley.

However, Ashley goes on to say that the tariffs have been reduced, so anyone thinking about installing a biomass boiler today should thoroughly investigate the financial rewards. Conversely, instalment costs have dropped, and there is now a wide available network of wood pellets and chip, so biomass heating is still considered a viable option. 

As with any heating system, there is a certain amount of work involved, and biomass boilers do require attention, such as monitoring fuel and dust levels, and emptying the ash. Choosing the right design and efficiency are key. “Getting the installation right at the design stage makes for trouble-free usage,” recommends Ashley. 

With regards to the fuel used, Ashley advises using pellets with the ‘ENplus' certified logo and from suppliers on the Biomass Supplier List (BSL) to meet RHI requirements. Woodchip is a popular option for large sites, such as farms, that have access to woodland to produce their own chip. The fuel decision has to be made prior to installation, as chip and pellets cannot be swapped once the boiler is in use.

For wood-burning on a smaller scale, such as the cosy secondary heat source woodburners many Devon homes are furnished with, Ashley encourages use of briquettes or heat logs. “They have consistent very low moisture content, are easy to light, easy to handle and offer much higher heat output per kilogram of fuel,” he explains. 

Another area of renewable energy that has seen a huge growth in popularity is solar panels. In fact, David Stevenson, Director of Moleenergy, part of Mole Valley Farmers, states that solar energy in the South West is one of the largest growth areas in Europe. With rising electricity costs, solar panels offer cost-effective and efficient heating methods. “Technological advances now offer even greater opportunity to create more power, increase system stability, enhanced safety and greater financial returns,” explains David.

Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) are an incentive to install solar PVs. This is a government-backed scheme where a payment is made to households or businesses generating their own electricity through the use of methods that do not contribute to the depletion of natural resources, proportional to the amount of power generated. “The future of new solar PV installations is still very bright and now offers the consumer greater control over their costs,” adds David.

Gabriel Wondrausch, founder of Exeter-based SunGift Solar, agrees that Devon is one of the best places to install solar panels. “The county has one of the highest levels of solar irradiation in the UK.”

Some of the solutions that SunGift has designed and installed recently include integrated solar slates (including slates on Listed buildings), solar carports, ground-mounted systems and outbuildings. Gabriel sites developments in the storage of solar energy over the past year as a boost for the technology. “Instead of sending excess electricity back to the grid if it isn’t used immediately in the home, we’ve been installing devices such as the Tesla Powerwall, which allows homeowners to store the energy generated from the sun and then use it when they need it most to power their homes.”

Experts advise having system warranties, insurance policies and regular maintenance, including upgrades and the addition of smart controllers on each panel. “We appreciate the importance of ensuring that each system is regularly maintained from a safety aspect, but also to secure your investment,” says David. 

For the most efficient, flexible and cost-effective heating, Ashley recommends a mix of systems: “With solar PV for hot water, biomass for heating and a stove for backup/summer heating, you have the best of all worlds.”

‘The future of new solar PV installations is still very bright and now offers the consumer greater control over their costs’

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