Stoking the fire of the South West bioheat sector

Project duration: February 2007 to April 2009

A 500% increase in the South West’s biomass capacity? In just over a year? Yes, we can help ...

The aim of Bioheat, which kicked off in early 2007, was to give the South West’s tiny biomass heating industry a turbo-charged boost.

At the commencement of the project, there was just 5MW of installed capacity of biomass heating in the region. This is a vanishingly small figure that would make barely a dent in regional renewable energy targets.

The plan was to raise this to 32MW (either actually installed or firmly ‘in the pipeline’) in just 13 months.*

Dave Clubb was CSE’s Renewable Energy Project Manager at the time, and found himself in the hot seat of managing Bioheat. “This represents a six-fold increase and means transforming the energy profile of the South West. It’s a really ambitious and challenging target, but it’s vital we meet it.”

What made the project particularly demanding is that the installation of large-scale biomass heating plants are significant undertakings in their own right, requiring detailed specifying, the input of engineers, architects and surveyors, and passage through local planning departments – not to mention financial investments that can reach several million pounds. Biomass boilers are not the sort of kit you install on a whim.

The project was commissioned by Regen SW (the renewable energy agency for the South West) and funded by the South West Regional Development Agency and the Forestry Commission. It sought to give the region’s biomass industry a boost by stimulating both the demand and the supply sides of the business.

On the demand side, organisations that could be encouraged to install biomass plants were offered a package of technical support, helping them scope, specify and purchase the equipment (a major investment that can run to several million pounds). The programme was delivered by a partnership between the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Black & Veatch Ltd.

In parallel to this was a second set of activities, delivered by Forest Fuels Ltd, and designed to boost the supply side by supporting potential and existing biomass fuel suppliers and distributers in the region.

The heat is on

Bioheat began by identifying around 100 sites across the South West that were potential candidates for the installation of biomass heating technology. This list was whittled down to those who expressed a strong interest and included:

Azimghur Army Barracks, Wiltshire  |  Bournemouth & Poole College  |  Camelford All Through Learning Centre, Cornwall  |  Castle Drogo, Devon  |  City of Bristol College  |  Dairy Crest, Davidstow, Cornwall  |  Dartington Hall, Devon  |  Eco Sustainable Solutions, Dorset  |  Holt Farms and Yeo Valley Organic, Somerset  |  Lanoyce Nurseries, Cornwall  |  Poole Housing Partnership  |  Queen Elizabeth’s School, Dorset  |  Rednock School, Gloucestershire  |  Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske  |  Octagon Theatre, South Somerset  |  St Osmund’s School, Dorset

Dave and the project team offered the managers of each of the sites ‘free’ consultancy support which ranged from undertaking detailed pre-feasibility studies and providing technical guidance to help with grant applications and liaison with local authority planners. “Each of the thirty sites has been allocated a ‘project champion’ from the team,” explained Dave. “The investment in large-scale wood-fuel heating systems is not something that any company will take on lightly, so the champion’s job is to advise, support and inform and make the transition as smooth and painless as possible.”

Detailed case studies of over a dozen of the chosen sites can be found on Regen’s South West’s Woodshed website at

To generate knowledge in the technology, the Bioheat programme also developed and ran a series of two-day training courses for specifiers of biomass systems (architects, engineering consultants, developers, etc). Held at venues where biomass installations were already up and running, these events allowed attendees to see the technology in action plus enabled them to provisionally size and design whole system solutions for their own sites.

Alongside the training, a number of demonstration visits to existing installations and a very successful study tour of biomass projects in Austria were undertaken.

At the time of writing (January 2010) 32 sites have been supported in their planned installation of biomass. Six, including Castle Drogo, Lanoyce Nurseries and the Royal Cornwall Hospital, are up and running and many others are likely to follow in the next 12 months. The total capacity will be in excess of 37MW.

Bioheat formally finished in 2009, but RegenSW continues to support the organisations who are in the process of installing biomass boilers and to work towards a secure and sustainable supply of woodfuel to fire them. For more information, see the Regen’s South West Woodshed website at

*  The South West Regional Spatial Strategy (which was written in 2006, but as of January 2010 had not yet been formally adopted) proposed a target for renewable heat capacity of 100MW by 2010. [Sounds a lot, but still just 0.2% of the region’s predicted heat demand.] Of this, biomass is expected to provide just under half, so even if the 32MW figure is reached, this still leaves the region short of target. The renewable energy targets within the South West Regional Spatial Strategy are based on the Revision2020 target-setting report prepared by CSE, Wardell Armstrong and Peter Capener with contributions by Adrian Smith, Steve Cardis and Land Use Consultants for the Government Office for the South West and the South West Regional Assembly (now South West Councils).


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