Pellets at Work

Case studies across Canada

Nova Scotia-native Brandon Dunning cut his home heating costs by switching to pellets last winter.

Nova Scotia native Brandon Dunning and his girlfriend had been searching for an alternative heating method. They were ready to find a more cost-efficient option to replace their home’s electric heating system. In February 2016, they decided to give wood pellets a try.

“We knew we needed a different heating source to keep the house warm at a cheaper cost. Wood would have been cheaper than electric too, but pellets were cheaper than wood and electric, and it has the highest convenience,” Dunning says.

Nova Scotia uses a mix of fuels to generate electricity, including coal, oil, natural gas and biomass, so the switch to pellets likely decreased the household’s carbon footprint. Cost-wise, it wasn’t a matter for debate. A higher quality bag of wood pellets in Nova Scotia is 1.8 times cheaper than electricity costs during winter in the province — nearly double.

“We paid $920 to heat our house last winter [with pellets] compared to $1,700 for electric,” Dunnings says. That’s a savings of almost $800.

“Right now we’re paying $6.29 a bag for the higher quality brand [of wood pellets], Eastern Embers,” he says. The pellets are made right in Nova Scotia from sawmill residuals by Shaw Resources, and meet the third-party quality standards set by the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI).

Last winter, Dunning and his girlfriend used just under two pellet skids. He says each skid contains about 70 bags of wood pellets, costing approximately $440 a skid. “We went through two and had a few left to burn on some chillier nights in April,” he says.

“The [pellet] stove heats the whole split-entry house we have. We have a downstairs angle at the staircase, so it will blow up the staircase, and that way all the heat will rise up through the house.”

Dunning found his pellet stove at Vintage Stoves in Brookfield, N.S.

Dunning says his pellet stove is easy to maintain.

“We were picking between a Quadra-Fire and a Harman and they both have really good reviews on maintenance. And that’s one thing we were really looking for in a pellet stove,” Dunning says. “That way we wouldn’t have to take it apart and clean it, or fix the igniter, or pay for another blower consistently.”

The stove installers instructed Dunning on maintenance procedures such as when and how to clean it. He said he also used a guide book that came with the stove.

“A learning curve for me was just making sure that the flue was nice and clean. Every once in a while I just step outside, make sure nothing is clogged up, no animals tried to get in through the grates,” Dunning says.

Dunning says maintenance for his Harman stove requires cleaning once a week. “We have to make sure the burn pot is scraped out properly and that there are no clog-ups in the fan, but I just do that every Sunday. It takes five minutes just to make sure everything’s scraped out and cleaned properly,” he says.

Dunning says ease of maintenance depends on the type of pellet stove one has and also the types of wood pellets being burned. He says cheaper pellet stoves generally require much more cleaning and cheaper wood pellets leave more ash that needs to be scraped out and cleaned in the end.

“It’s a fulfilling heat. I find electric heat doesn’t heat you right to the bones.”

The community of La Cité Verte in downtown Quebec City set the standard for energy efficiency five years ago by installing a four-boiler biomass combustion system to heat the dwelling and domestic hot water.

La Cité Verte was the first large-scale, multi-residential project in Quebec comprised of green, intelligent buildings.

La Cité Verte offers proof that biomass heating is not only a feasible solution for rural areas, but it can also be implemented effectively within an urban setting of more than 800 housing units.

The heating network uses wood pellets, a by-product from Quebec’s forest industry, as fuel. Wood is a local staple and independent of wide price fluctuations; it is harvested with minimal energy input and contributes to the regional economy. The combustion of premium wood pellets is a clean and environmentally friendly process and, as a carbon neutral source of energy, it does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

At the heart of the system is a boiler plant housing four Viessmann Pyrotec KPT-1250 wood-fired boilers (each rated at 1,250 KW) in a 5 MW cascade system. The cascade arrangement provides maximum boiler plant efficiency with high turndown ratio (1:16) that precisely matches load. The Pyrotec hot water boilers have met their published performance ratings for combustion efficiency (up to 85 per cent) since the biomass heating system went online in October 2011. A 5.2 MW natural gas boiler provides emergency backup for the biomass boilers, and a 650 KW diesel generator will ensure continuous operation of the entire district heating system in the event of an electric power failure.

The boilers heat two 22,000 L buffer water tanks before heated water (90°C supply/50°C return) is distributed through a highly efficient, low temperature hydronic heating network for district DHW and space heating. Pre-insulated underground piping in the 2.2 km system ranges from 8” in diameter exiting the boiler plant to smaller pipes feeding row houses (1” diameter) and other buildings throughout the site.

Each dwelling is equipped with a monitoring unit that provides information on daily energy consumption to raise residents’ awareness of their energy usage and encourage energy conservation in the neighbourhood.

A $22.7-million investment by the Quebec Government, $4.7-million grant from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund and financial assistance from Hydro-Québec affirm the vision and forward thinking of the Quebec community regarding sustainable development. By integrating aspects of sustainability and green technologies, La Cité Verte has become a model for future developments in the province and the first green technology showcase in Eastern Canada.

This case study is part of a previously published feature for Canadian Biomass magazine.

Former Mayor Gordon VanTighem

Bruce Elliott

Former Mayor Gordon VanTighem delights in the fact that tourists who visit Yellowknife, North America’s diamond capital, are also unintentionally visiting the pellet boiler capital of Canada.

Being 1,000 kilometres north of the nearest oil refinery, Yellowknife lives on the front line of volatile fossil fuel prices. About fifteen years ago, a small factory owner thought wood pellets might be the answer to his dilemma of providing a constant flow of air to his shop without breaking the bank.

Bruce Elliott experimented with wood pellets, concluded there was a business in it, and 10 years ago sold the territorial government on his vision. “It took a bit of convincing, but once we showed them it worked, their response has been good,” Elliott said.

The first project was the North Slave Correctional Facility in Yellowknife, where Elliott installed the boilers and sold the heat to the government below the current price of fuel oil.

“It has cost them nothing, and they get green energy.”

With the current high cost of fuel oil in Yellowknife, biomass-heating projects are reducing the cost of heating 40 to 50 per cent.

The government has invested tens of millions in weaning as many of the Northwest Territories’ 45,000 residents off fuel oil as possible, providing incentives to businesses and homeowners to convert to pellet boilers.

The territorial government plans to convert as many of its buildings to pellet heat as is practicable.

This case study is part of a previously published feature for Canadian Biomass magazine.

Seniors living at Les Residences Jodin nursing home are keeping warm in the winter thanks largely in part to the installation of two hot water biomass boilers.

The entire facility is heated using a radiant heating system equipped with two Viessmann biomass boilers that produce upwards of 1.8 million BTUs of heat.

To complement the biomass boilers, which generate the primary heat for the facility, two 4-million BTU Viessmann oil-fired boilers were also installed to make sure the heaviest heating demands for the facility are met in the wintertime.

Wood pellets for the biomass boilers are delivered by Saint-Quentin, N.B.-based Groupe Savoie every three weeks to the nursing home’s on-site 60-ton pellet silo that fuels the boilers. The pellets are fed to the boilers via two wood pellet augers.

“It’s fully automatic,” Daron Thomas of Thomas Industrial Sales, the company that supplied the biomass heating system, explains. “Once the system decides to turn on, it feeds itself, runs the augers, measures the combustion efficiency and gets rid of it’s own ash. Once the pellets get burned, sensors activate to communicate that the pellets have burned and run another auger that drives the ash up to an ash can.”

Every few weeks the ash from the biomass boilers is removed and transported to local farmers who spread it on their farmlands as a conditioner.

Once the heat is generated in the hot water boilers it is sent to two 1,500-gallon buffer tanks where it is stored. The water in the buffer tanks is then pumped through a pair of Bell & Gossett pumps at a flow rate upwards of 1,100 gallons per minute and travels through 147,000 feet of in-floor PEX piping that generates radiant heat for the entire facility.

Thomas says the provincial government’s decision to opt for biomass boilers was likely a combination of interest in energy savings and a desire to be “more green.”

“The province has a green energy plan and they realize by burning wood pellets they grow local jobs, which isn’t the case with any other type of energy,” he says. “They knew this could be a good application.”

This case study is part of a previously published feature for Canadian Biomass magazine.

I live in Revelstoke, a community of about 7,200 people nestled in the Columbia Mountains of southwest British Columbia. Due to our low population and surrounding mountainous terrain, Revelstoke is not served by natural gas. The most common home heating energy sources are propane, electricity, wood pellets and heating oil.

I recently installed a new 35,000 BTU wood pellet stove on the main floor of my 1,800 square foot house. Although I have propane and electric backup, my pellet stove heats my entire house. The stove and chimney liner cost $4,734 including tax and I paid a WETT-certified technician $650 for installation; total cost, tax included was $5,384.

Most will agree that wood heat is special. It has an ambience and coziness that can’t be matched by propane, electricity or oil. And since wood pellets are cheaper than other forms of energy, I don’t mind when my wife wants to keep the heat up high.

Operating and maintaining my pellet stove is easy. I buy pellets – about ten bags at a time, which is all that fits in my car – and store them in my garage. Due to the stove’s small hopper size, I fill it twice daily. It takes me about one minute each day to fetch the window spray and wipe the stove glass clean so we can enjoy the pellet flame. Once a week I need to spend about 10 minutes cleaning ash from the inside of the stove and emptying the ash pan.

Other than the cozy heat, the next most attractive feature of my pellet stove is the low operating cost. In Revelstoke, pellets cost $5.24 per bag or $262 per tonne. This works out to $15.41/ gigajoule (GJ). Add $0.50 /GJ to operate the stove’s auger and fan for a total pellet cost of $15.92/GJ. This compares with $24.36/GJ for propane (including delivery, carbon tax and electrical fan); $29.47/GJ for electricity; and a whopping $33.93/GJ for heating oil.

Revelstoke has a cool winter climate; from November to February the average daily temperature is about -5°C. From my old propane bills, I know that my home uses about 0.7 GJ/day of heat energy (including heating appliance efficiency losses) during the coldest part of the winter. Annually my house requires 81 GJ of heat energy – equivalent to 4.8 tonnes of wood pellets. So now, on the coldest winter days, I spend $11.14/ day for wood pellets. If I used propane, it would cost $17.05/day; electricity (adjusted for greater energy efficiency) would cost $17.94/day; and heating oil would cost $23.75/day. On an annual basis, pellets will cost $1,290; propane would cost, $1,973; electricity, $2,076; and heating oil, $2,748.

The only drawback of installing a pellet stove is the relatively high upfront cost. My stove, including installation, cost $5,384. The City of Revelstoke administers the provincially-funded Woodstove Change-out Program that pays a rebate of $500 to homeowners who replace old inefficient wood stoves with new EPA/CSA certified high-efficiency pellet, wood or gas stoves. Unfortunately, since I changed a gas stove for a pellet stove, I did not qualify for this rebate.

The annual savings from using wood pellets instead of propane is $683, yielding a simple payback of 7.9 years.

I am happy with my pellet stove. I like the ambience and cozy heat. It operates automatically and requires infrequent filling. Maintenance is very easy. And pellets are cheaper than such alternatives as propane, electricity and heating oil. I am grateful that I was able to afford the cost of purchasing and installing my stove. However, lower -income families may not have the same ability. Moreover, they may not be willing to accept a 7.9 year payback period. Nevertheless, wood pellets provide the best heat and are the lowest cost energy source in my hometown, Revelstoke, and in many other Canadian communities.

This case study by Gordon Murray first appeared in January/February 2015 issue of Canadian Biomass magazine.


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