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‘Green’ biomass boilers may waste billions in public money
Over £10bn could be paid in incentives for non-domestic biomass boilers despite a government study showing they are less efficient than thought and won’t help the UK meet clean energy targets.
The UK has pushed biomass boilers as a technology to help meet an EU target of getting at least 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, incentivising businesses and individuals to switch to them in return for payments under the RHI.
But “under-performance appears widespread in the UK biomass heat sector,” the paper admits, adding that the efficiency shortfall “also means emissions will be higher than laboratory test results suggest”.
Just £128.9m had been paid through the RHI as of November 2014, but the final cost in public money could be over £10bn because those installing biomass boilers under the scheme receive annual payments for several years, Decc’s own impact assessment shows. So far, most RHI payments appear to have been banked by wealthy landowners.
To be promoted as a renewable source of energy, the biomass boilers need to have a 85% efficiency rate for converting fuel to energy – but the Decc study reveals the average efficiency rate of installed boilers was 66.5%.
The target rate may be unreachable, as the report found that the biomass heating systems surveyed “can only achieve levels around 76% (on average)”.
Yet no field studies of biomass boiler efficiency were carried out before the RHI’s introduction because Decc viewed biomass as an established and internationally successful technology.