If you’re reading this, your organization or institution is likely ready to actively consider biomass heating as an option for its needs. In times of significant technological change trusted advisors must be carefully considered and opportunities for overcharging are plentiful. Here are some things to consider as you prepare your move toward renewable biomass heating.
- You need basic insights: The vendors of high quality biomass heating equipment often provide training sessions for technicians, engineers, architects, and end-users. For example, https://www.maineenergysystems.com/Contractor_Training_Schedule.htm
To give your organization a basis for sound decision-making take advantage of that training. Your organization will learn the basics of the heating technology and will have a better idea what questions to ask those who submit proposals for engineering and installation services.
- Trusted advisors change: Most institutions and businesses have engineering firms that they routinely use when they have mechanical systems questions. As you consider changing to a renewable energy source, you will want to confirm that those trusted advisors have expertise in energy sources you want to consider. Well meaning engineers with no training or experience in biomass energy systems of interest to you can provide expensive, meaningless, even counterproductive, advice.
- Vendor trustworthiness: There are ranges of renewable energy products on the market. Some are well-established products tested through years of field installation, and some are newly developed and largely untested hoping to fill emerging needs. Take the time to talk with the vendors of products you’re interested in to learn about the installed bases of their products and check with references on performance of some of their installed equipment.
- Certifications: Different state and local jurisdictions have different requirements for system certifications. All boilers installed anywhere generally require UL/CSA testing and listing. Beyond that pressure vessels might also require certification. For example, in Maine all boilers installed in schools and municipally owned buildings must be stamped as built and tested to ASME H standards (American Society of Mechanical Engineers). Some installers have left systems “open,” or unpressurized as a way around that rule, but that isn’t a recommended practice. Check with your insurance underwriters before installing such a system. Some installers have suggested installation of their non-ASME boilers in unoccupied sheds, or buildings, adjacent to the buildings to be heated as a way to circumvent the pressure vessel regulation. Be aware that some States, including Maine, define boilers installed in unoccupied buildings as “outdoor wood boilers” and require them to have EPA hangtags certifying their emissions levels before they can be operated.
- Equipment specification/pricing: There are growing lists of technicians who can install and service biomass heating systems; however, the list is smaller than the list of oil or propane installers. To get the most favorable pricing on a specified installation seek competitive bids from several companies who have reasonable experience installing the products you select. This suggests that you and your well-selected trusted advisor should select the equipment you want to install prior to seeking bids from installation companies.
- Pellet supply, storage, and delivery: There are many pellet mills in the northeastern United States; they produce lots of good quality pellets. However, it is important that you understand what pellet attributes are most important for the equipment you’re considering installing. It is also very important to know how the pellets you contract for will get from the mill to your silo or storage bins. Pellet distribution in the US is still an industry in its infancy. Pellets are delivered by auger truck, by a truck with a mechanically fed Airlock, and by fully pneumatic trucks with pressurized bodies. Each delivery style is different. Make sure the delivery proposed for your system will deliver undamaged pellets quickly and quietly to the storage systems you plan to use.
There are many people who have devoted time to understanding the biomass heating industry in its entirety. Those people are generally happy to help direct you to trustworthy advice and products.Two significant trade organizations can provide such help, BTEC (Biomass Thermal Energy Council) http://biomassthermal.org and the Maine Pellet Fuels Association http://mepfa.org In the Northeast Maine Energy Systems is also a repository of information for those considering biomass fuel-switching. http://maineenergysystems.com
Dutch Dresser is a Director of Maine Energy Systems.