Biomass Upgrade Scheme Rural Support Slashed

On Feb 24th 15 of our in-house Klover wood boilers were removed from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme product eligibility list. Most of these Klover wood pellet boilers have been on this eligibility list for at least 9 years, and in accordance with the scheme the models are all fully assessed and MCS certified, and the whole Klover factory is too.

These models account for roughly 50-60% of the biomass installations supported by the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. So this sudden move slashes the rural support of the scheme by 50-60%

We have now learned that the reason that they were removed was to make sure that they meet two of the scheme requirements. These are that the boilers must minimise the heat given to the space they are installed in, and that they must not generate heat for the purpose of cooking. 

Two of the models removed are the Smart 120 and Smart 80. These are boilers and when they are running you can also incidentally cook on them. They do not produce heat for the purpose of cooking; the purpose of the heat is for heating. If they were designed for the purpose of cooking you would be able to cook independently of those times when they are running as a boiler. As it is with a Smart you need to also have a separate normal cooker because of this.  

All the models do also minimise heat to the room by surrounding the fire chamber with a boiler, having convoluted flue pathways, and by using double glazed glass. Utility boilers do also give heat to the space in which they are installed, but it's not measured as part of the test standard. In-room boilers do have the heat to the space they are installed in measured and this is minimised because other they would end up overheating the room in which they are installed. In addition in contrast to utility boilers, where heat given to the installation room is generally wasted because they are installed in an outbuilding, with an in-house boiler this heat is put to use heating the building - so it's arguably a more efficient setup.   

This only leaves utility pellet boilers on the eligibility list

This leaves behind utility biomass boilers on the list. Utility boilers are a great solution, but they tend to be big, you need spare outbuildings to install them into, and the initial install cost can be very high. Not only does the boiler tend to be more expensive, but you would often also install a large fuel hopper, a fuel feed system, and a large thermal store. 

In contrast to that the Klover in-house boilers that have been removed from the eligibility list are installed inside the home, and connected to an existing chimney. That means they are practical and affordable for most of the "hard to treat" rural homes. 

Support under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is now limited to even less rural homes, and the owners will need to have outbuildings and be wealthy enough to afford the higher cost.

Without these in-house wood pellet boilers there is not really a viable grant-supported alternative to fossil fuels for the majority of rural ‘hard to treat’ homes in England and Wales.

What is the Boiler Upgrade Scheme?

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme is the government grant scheme that followed on when the Renewable Heat Incentive ended. It started in April 2022 and is meant to support our transition to low CO2 heating systems in England and Wales. We took part in the initial consultation and feedback about the scheme and one of our concerns was that it did not seem to tackle the scale of the challenge. If the scheme was working to plan then it would be supporting 90,000 installations over 3 years, which pales into insignificance when you consider that we urgently need to switch over 25 million fossil fuel heating to low CO2 alternatives. 

The scheme concentrates on heat pumps, with a smaller part given to biomass boilers limited to "hard to treat" homes.

Characteristics of hard to treat homes:

  • Rural
  • Often hard/expensive to insulate
  • Relatively high heat consumption
  • Single phase electricity supply, and prohibitively expensive to upgrade to 3-phase.
  • Often heated using oil - which has much higher CO2 emissions than gas
  • Many are generally unsuited to heat pumps

These hard to treat homes represent a big opportunity for reducing carbon emissions because of these characteristics.

How is the Boiler Upgrade Scheme Performing?

The Lords Climate Change Committee recently looked at the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. They found that it was not delivering to plan or fast enough and said it was failing.

Big impact on small local businesses

We work with a small network of local businesses and engineers to install these wood pellet boilers into homes not suitable for a heat pump. We do not all drive Porsches around, we do not aim to profit from public payments - our view is that we work hard as part of the aim to decarbonise heating in the UK, or that's how we used to think about it at least.

The challenge is how to urgently accelerate the deployment of low CO2 heating, which is currently progressing too slowly. Rural homes do tend to be harder to heat and tend to have higher CO2 emissions and so represent a big opportunity when it comes to decarbonisation.  

An early day motion and questions have been tabled in Parliament and we have had an initial meeting with BUS scheme administrator, representatives of Ofgem, and ESNZ facilitated by our local MP for which we are grateful. We hope that sense will prevail. 

If this situation continues this network of local businesses will remain in a difficult position, having to consider redundancies, rural homes will unfairly see the already limited support to encourage them to switch to renewable heating slashed, and this will be a further hurdle for decarbonisation.