Mike Harvey, Training and Technical Support Manager at HETAS, explains how biomass fits into the sustainable heating agenda, and how to get the skills needed to install new integrated systems.

Renewable and sustainable heat technology remains at the forefront of the government’s agenda, in a bid to meet zero carbon targets and commitments by the year 2050.

Using biomass materials as fuel to produce heat and hot water can contribute to climate related targets, as they have much lower net carbon emissions than fossil fuels like coal and gas. Wood and other biomass fuels will undoubtedly play a part in the future, in both primary and secondary heating provision for domestic and commercial sectors. 

The carbon dioxide released when wood is burned is the same amount that was absorbed over the time that the plant was growing. The process is sustainable as long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel. 

Biomass installations have been questioned in recent times, with scrutiny over the quality of installations and fuel leading to concerns over emissions, particulates, and clean air requirements. HETAS continues to work with industry stakeholders and government departments to ensure that the technology is considered as part of the solution to the challenges we face, while helping to upskill and regulate the industry. 

With timelines and targets in mind for ending the use of fossil fuels, most installers will soon be faced with the alternative technologies needed to meet the changing requirements for system design. 

Heat pumps are a popular choice and, more recently, we have seen some of our registered installers integrating technologies including heat pump, biomass, solar thermal, and solar PV, all in one system, to provide heating and hot water.

A lesser known area of biomass technology is the ‘domestic pellet appliance’, either as a secondary dry appliance or as a boiler providing primary heat in place of gas or oil, which is compatible with smart heating controls, much in the same way as a gas boiler. These appliances, very popular throughout Europe, are clean burning and need very little in the way of maintenance. 

For those who have a wood burning stove or boiler, the chimney and flue pipe must be swept regularly to remove all soot deposits and prevent blockage. We recommend that this should be done at least twice a year, preferably before the heating season, to check that the flue has not been blocked by bird’s nests, for example, and also at the end of the heating season to prevent soot deposits from resting in the chimney during the dormant period.

The new Level 3 Plumbing & Heating Technician Apprenticeship recognises the importance of the technology as one of the pathways and includes the option to undertake training and assessment at HETAS-accredited training centres.

This is a big step forward since previously few apprentices could study biomass installations due to the complexities of meeting assessment criteria in college and on site portfolio evidence. As a result, generations of installers are unsure of the requirements to install such appliances.

Delivered by skilled trainers at HETAS-approved training centres, courses cover core theory and practical considerations for installation, as well as service and maintenance, the importance of using appropriate fuels, and regulatory requirements. Training will prepare installers for a variety of consumer scenarios.

For example, whether an appliance is being used as a secondary heat source in an existing fireplace or is freestanding as a focal point in a room. It also covers installations that are linked in to heating systems and can be controlled via mobile and smart technology.

The market needs to adapt quickly to the changes that are expected in the years ahead. At HETAS, we’re on hand to offer advice and training in all matters relating to the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible use of biomass and other solid fuels.