At HeatSpring, we connect and build communities of learners and experts. Sharing knowledge is our passion. We collaborate with people in technical, complex industries to develop awareness, inspire creative ingenuity, and push boundaries. Most recently, we’ve focused on the biomass energy heating industry.
To get a pulse for what’s happening in the industry, we connected with six awesome individuals who are working on increasing the adoption of biomass heating systems:
- Dr. Harry “Dutch” Dresser, Managing Director of Maine Energy Systems
- Maura Adams, Program Director of Northern Forest Center
- John Siegenthaler, Principal Appropriate Designs who teaches an advanced 10-week biomass heating system design course
- Gabrielle Stebbins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont
- Alice Brumbach, Executive Administrator of the NY Biomass Energy Alliance
- Amanda Byrd, Program Coordinator at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power
- Joe Seymour, Executive Director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC)
The vibrancy of and momentum happening in the biomass heating industry prompted the creation of the Hydronic-Based Biomass Heating Professionals LinkedIn group. The group is a space to provide biomass heating professionals an opportunity to connect, collaborate, and share their own knowledge. Check it out to add to this conversation.
5 Ways the Biomass Heating Industry is Laying the Foundation for Explosive Growth:
1. “THE EVOLUTIONARY PHASE OF A NEW TECHNOLOGY TAKES TIME.”
Dr. Harry “Dutch” Dresser, Managing Director of Maine Energy Systems, is a pioneer in the biomass energy industry. He formed Maine Energy Systems with his partners, Les Otten and William Strauss, to improve energy production and usage in Maine by offering a complete wood pellet fired central home heating system and guaranteed fuel delivery, as well as comprehensive annual maintenance. When asked to share industry barriers to growth, he shared that just as the introduction of any technology takes time, so too will boiler technology for homeowners, insurance companies, and policymakers. Maine Energy Systems’ website focuses heavily on education for that very purpose. Spending a few minutes on their website, homeowners begin to learn how to differentiate between different boilers, that pellet stoves differ from boiler systems in every regard, and how to calculate the cost savings of shifting from oil to biomass.
2. THE NORTHEAST IS THE EPICENTER OF THE U.S. BIOMASS ENERGY INDUSTRY.
Maura Adams, Program Director of Northern Forest Center, Alice Brumbach, Executive Administrator of the NY Biomass Energy Alliance , and Gabrielle Stebbins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont know this best. They work on initiatives to raise awareness about the benefits of alternative energy consumption spanning New York, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Adams’ team leads the Model Neighborhood Project, a program that incentivizes the installation of high-efficiency, automated wood pellet boilers to increase familiarity with these systems, demonstrates their value and viability, and develops service and pellet delivery infrastructure. In June 2014, the Center launched their most recent Model Neighborhood Project in nine Northeast Kingdom towns in Vermont. Brumbach and the NY Biomass Energy Alliance, a coalition of individuals, businesses, and organizations working together to enhance support, understanding, and use of sustainably-produced farm and forest biomass as a source of renewable energy, co-hosts the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo. The Expo is the biggest in the region. Brumbach recently completed a two-year project: The Local Impact of Woody Biomass Energy Projects: Quick Assessment Tool for Planners and Community Leaders, a first of its kind Excel-based tool, to help people calculate the impact of a shift from oil to biomass on harvesting, air quality, and highway traffic, as well as potential benefits such as local economic activities, tax revenues, and employment. Stebbins and the Renewable Energy Vermont team are focused on bringing together the multiple stakeholders in the renewable energy industry – from land owners to loggers to system designers, installers and maintenance operators — to identify market barriers, reduce soft costs and increase the expansion of modern wood heating throughout Vermont. On October 16 & 17, they will host Renewable Energy 2014 (RE 2014), Vermont’s annual convention bringing together key players in the clean energy sector. This year’s conference will highlight current energy challenges, Vermont’s leadership role in the energy industry, and the steps needed to implement an integrated energy infrastructure. What else is happening in Vermont? Currently, more than 30% of Vermont’s K-8 public school students attend schools heated by wood and over the next year, the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund is expecting to disperse a few million dollars into incentives for modern wood heating for public schools and residences. Simultaneously, Vermont just received a grant from the US Forest Service to develop the industry through a State Wood Energy Team.
3. SYSTEMS ARE KEY.
The adage of life also applies to biomass heating systems. John Siegenthaler shared that when it comes to boiler installation, the biomass industry must focus on complete systems supplied by biomass heat sources. He stressed the importance of using modern hydronics technology and specific control techniques that allow the operating characteristics of a boiler to match the load profile of a building. Amanda Byrd, Program Coordinator at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), recently flew John to Fairbanks for a two-day workshop dedicated to teaching more than 50 designers, utility managers, and engineers best practices for system design. ACEP, based at the University of Alaska, is dedicated to applied energy research and testing focused on lowering the cost of energy throughout Alaska and developing economic opportunities for residents and Alaskan industries. The ACEP and the Alaska Energy Authority are hosting their 9th annual Alaska Rural Energy Conference on September 23rd, 2014 to offer more than 500 research professionals, engineers, installers, and policymakers new energy technologies and technical sessions.
4. “CONTINUUM OF QUALITY IS KEY FOR SUCCESS.”
It’s obvious that Dresser and his team don’t do anything half-heartedly. From all-you-can-eat lobster festivals educating consumers about the specifics of biomass energy heating to installation training requirements and truck redesigns for optimal pellet delivery to comprehensive maintenance reviews, Maine Energy Systems upholds what Dresser says is important for the biomass energy movement to grow. Positive user experience and properly-installed boiler systems are key to advance the market. Companies and individuals who compromise the continuum of quality (like installing the wrong equipment together) pollute the marketplace.
5. ECONOMICS MATTER.
The biomass energy industry is an economic closed loop. Supply and demand are directly related to resources. Some barriers the industry faces include High upfront costs of equipment and confusion about fuel costs. Joe Seymour, Executive Director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC), shared the initial high costs of converting to modern wood heating equipment can scare away home and business owners. However, biomass fuels have historically been much cheaper and less subject to wild price swings compared to oil and propane, meaning consumers can often pay for their systems through cost savings alone with a few years. Credits and grants for biomass heating systems are available to defray costs, too. People interested in incentives for renewable energy can learn more from DSIRE, the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. Through its Model Neighborhood Project, the Northern Forest Center offers financial incentives for residential and non-residential installations in specific towns in Maine and Vermont. For a more specific take on incentives, BTEC will hold a webinar about thermal grants, rebates, and credits.
Joining The Community
What do you know that others should know? Share your knowledge in the Hydronic-Based Biomass Heating Professionals LinkedIn group and contribute to the Live Lecture: Temperature Stacking in Thermal Storage for Biomass Heating Systems discussion board.
Investing in Biomass Training
This fall, in collaboration with BTEC, HeatSpring is offering a course to teach engineers and contractors how to design hydronic-based biomass heating systems. John Siegenthaler, our expert instructor, will teach advanced control techniques for system design and more.
John will also host an August 7th live lecture that will cover a very specific control technique that is ideally suited to systems using pellet-fueled or wood chip-fueled boilers and is open to the public at no cost.