The booming business of biomass

Published:  03 December, 2014

Finian Parrick advises installers on what to consider and the steps to take before moving into biomass

Biomass is a growing industry offering an exciting opportunity for installers of traditional oil and gas boilers to work with a more profitable and sustainable product range.

When becoming a biomass installer, you will first need to consider whether to specialise in domestic or commercial installations. You can obviously choose to do both, but the most effective installers tend to focus on one or the other.

A domestic installer works in people’s homes installing typically smaller products, while commercial installers will carry out much higher level, larger projects sometimes involving district heating schemes or industrial installations. Commercial projects also tend to require a larger workforce with more technical knowledge and skills. The next step is to embark on the relevant training and to find a supplier or manufacturer.

Appropriate training
As an installer of gas or oil systems, you should already have a good technical grounding that can be easily transferred to biomass installations. For both commercial and domestic installers, the HETAS qualification is a good way to get started in biomass. Any credible biomass installer will have this qualification.

HETAS is the leading training provider for solid fuel, wood and biomass courses, which generally cost around £1,000 and are widely available from approved local training centres. Alternatively, existing gas and oil installers can take the new HETAS Biomass Installer – Direct Entry Biomass Training course.

BPEC Woody Biomass training is also a good way to convert your skills, as it provides training designed to give experienced heating installers the knowledge to enable them to install wood-fuelled heating systems.

Domestic biomass installers should also obtain a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation. To achieve this standard, you must first install a biomass system up to 45kw, which will then be inspected in line with the regulations. As domestic installations require more direct consumer advice, the MCS gives customers reassurance of your expertise. MCS is also an eligibility requirement for the government’s financial incentives, which include the Feed-in-Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The installation of biomass boilers is considerably more expensive to the end user than traditional gas or oil boilers. Installers should therefore have sound knowledge of the financial incentives available to the customer.

Biomass is orientated around the RHI, so it is beneficial to have a good knowledge of its guidelines and the application process. To receive RHI payments, only products approved by the scheme can be installed. Biomass installers must be able to explain the RHI and its conditions of installation, as well as understand the paperwork involved. There are courses teaching correct administration and third parties can handle applications for a fee.

If you’re looking to become a domestic biomass installer, knowledge of the Green Deal is also useful. Installers should be able to survey a property, and assess whether it is up to a certain level of efficiency, so that the customer can apply for support from the Green Deal.

Choosing suppliers
Once you have the right qualifications, the next step is to find a supplier or manufacturer of biomass boilers. Few manufacturers sell direct in the UK and most work through distributors. A good supplier/distributor will provide training on their product range taking you through how to install, service, commission and sell the products, as well as giving on-going assistance with system design and troubleshooting.

As biomass is a relatively new heat source, it is also beneficial to know the different fuel supplies and their availability. This isn’t something gas or oil installers need to take into account, as traditional oil and gas fuel sources are readily available across the country. A biomass installer must check that the fuel supply is readily available and can be easily accessed by the customer.

Pricing is also something new biomass installers must come to terms with quickly. We’ve seen installers under-price jobs because unforeseen issues haven’t been reflected in the original quote. Your supplier should be able to guide you on correct pricing.

Biomass is becoming increasingly popular with UK homeowners and businesses. It is also a relatively new product, and there are good margins to be had. With oil and gas installations, the system is likely to have already been in place for some time. Biomass, on the other hand, often requires a completely new system to be installed, making it a much bigger project. Customers upgrading to biomass also tend to be looking to improve energy efficiency throughout their property and this is where biomass can lead to further opportunities, such as providing additional products like underfloor heating and radiators.

Finian Parrick is managing director of ZERO