Harry “Dutch” Dresser, Ed,D,
Maine Energy Systems
Some have asked if there is value in switching to a wood pellet boiler or furnace when fossil fuel prices are atypically low? Certainly there is, the truly important values of fuel switching persist regardless of oil and gas prices.
Three goals are the focus of those striving to maintain the habitability of our planet: reduction of greenhouse gas production, increase in the proportion of consumed energy derived from renewable fuels, and increased efficiency in all energy use.
Most developed nations of the world are very serious about environmental issues. Many have ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas production, to increase the proportion of renewable energy sources in their energy profiles, and to reduce energy consumption generally. These goals drive their public policy. These positions remind us what’s truly important about biomass heating.
Wood pellet central heating has shown itself to be the most effective renewable energy source to date for displacing fossil fuel consumption. Its global contributions to oil equivalent energy offset outstrip the contributions of all other renewable energy sources combined. It is our global responsibility to cut down on GHGs and to use renewable resources whenever possible. Those in the biomass heating industry make it possible for home and business owners to participate in the important tasks of reducing greenhouse gas production and displacing fossil fuel use.
When home and business owners in the colder climes seek to address those goals through more sensible heating methods, they should switch heating fuels from a fossil fuel, oil, propane, or natural gas, to biomass as their first action. This will cut their greenhouse gas production by more than 80% immediately and eliminate their total consumption of fossil fuels for heating immediately. In most cases their replacement of older fossil fuel heating equipment with efficient, modern pellet central heating equipment will also lead to improved heating efficiency as well.
Fuel switching as the first step in a complete program to be responsible with thermal energy use has the environmental benefits mentioned. It also has the important local benefit of supporting the regional economy through the purchase of locally grown, harvested, milled and distributed heating fuel. Pellet mills and the forest communities they support have struggled this year, both here and abroad. Adoption of pellet central heating is strong support for our working forests, which are made healthier by the pellet fiber markets that are replacing the vanishing traditional pulp and paper markets for low-grade wood.
Those of us who switch to clean, efficient, biomass heat are a significant link in the path to atmospheric quality sustainability. Encouraging others to fuel switch as their first expenditure in achieving more responsible building heating will serve not only critical global needs but also urgent local economic and silvicultural needs.
And, of course, fossil fuel prices will surely achieve levels more in keeping with those of the recent past making the long-term prospect of a sensible return on pellet central heating investment quite likely.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted an ambitious commitment calling for signatories to “pursue efforts to” limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. Many scientists believe this will require zero net GHG emissions between 2030 and 2050. We will all have to play an active role if this ambitious target is to be achieved.