Wood & Waste
Renewable energy made from wood and organic waste is known as biomass. Biomass can be used to generate renewable heat, renewable electricity, or both – a process called combined heat and power.
For communities, particularly those that have no mains gas supply available, the installation of a biomass boiler in a community building, such as a community centre, can provide one of the simplest forms of community energy project. Biomass boilers can run on different sources of wood fuel, such as logs, wood chipping or manufactured wood pellets. The energy cost of these wood fuels per unit of energy is significantly cheaper than heating oil or LPG, and much cheaper than electrical powered heating systems. This fuel cost saving, combined with the incentive payments available on every kWhr of renewable heat generated, can ensure that the cost of installing a biomass boiler is relatively quickly recovered.
Biomass offers a good cost effectively solution to the perennial problem facing many community buildings. Being hard or expensive to heat, and therefore generally cold, they are underused and can struggle to make ends meet. The incentive payments available for biomass heating allow community buildings to be much more warm and inviting, and therefore more attractive venues for cultural and social activities that contribute to the viability of the building, and the vibrancy of the community.
Larger scale, district heating schemes, involving the development of heat mains that distribute heat to multiple buildings are the next stage of development for community energy schemes involving heat. The bigger the heat load, the more economical wood fuel boilers become in contrast to other forms of energy, such as gas. A district heating scheme can be imagined simply as a scaled up version of a domestic heating system, in that it pumps heated water around a pressurised system – just like to the radiators in your home. The complication comes in how the heat is metred and sold to a disparate group of customers, that could comprise a local school, municipal buildings, a block of flats or individual properties. The difficulty and cost of laying the heat main, particularly in built up areas, are the main draw backs of such projects. District heating is common in Europe, and is becoming increasingly so in the UK.
Organic waste can be made to produce energy through a process called anaerobic digestion. AD is a process that sees the biomass feedstock – which can take many forms such as leftover waste food, grass and hedge trimmings, manure, etc. – broken down by micro-organisms in an air tight container to produce a methane-rich bio gas that can be burnt for heat and power, and a nutrient-rich digestate that can be used as a fertiliser. AD plants have become increasingly common on farms, but there are also now an increasing number of examples of community owned and developed schemes in the UK.
For further information on developing a community AD project see the recent report, Energy Farms – anaerobic digestion, produced by the National Energy Foundation.
More information on how you might fund your project can be found on our Funding page.
This page is also available in: Welsh