Friday, September 30, 2011

The Booming Wood and Pellet Stove Market in Europe

In recent years there has been considerable attention given to European boilers and boiler testing methods, but much less given to European stoves. European national governments are aggressively incentivizing wood heat in addition to regulating it, unlike the US where needed regulation is not combined with promotion of the cleanest forms of wood heat as a renewable energy source.

Although I am no expert in the European wood and pellet stove market, I spent a month in France and Spain this summer and was very impressed with what I saw.

The wood stove market is much larger in Europe than it is in the US. Apparently, more than 2 million stoves and inserts are sold every year in the 27 European Union Countries, and there are 42 million installations. (On average, in the US there are less than 250,000 stoves and inserts sold every year and only about 13 million installations.) Additionally, about 450,000 wood cook stoves are purchased each year in Europe, and there are 7,500,000 installations. The population of the 27 European Union countries is about 500,000,000 whereas the US is about 300,000,000, so it’s a bigger market but probably even more urbanized.

In France, 30 – 40% of the population in most areas uses wood as a primary or secondary heat source. However, there was not the explosion of low efficiency polluting devices that occurred in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the average French person does not regard wood heating as a pollution problem as many Americans are likely to.

France has had tax credits for stoves at 15% starting since at least 2001. In 2005, they rose to 40% and were as much as 50% in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 they went down to 40%, and in 2011 they were further reduced to 36%. Due to budget cuts, tax credits are likely to be reduced again in 2012 or end altogether.

To qualify for the credits, stoves had to be 70% efficient and under 0.3% CO emissions, which conforms to the French eco-label Flamme Verte’s standard. Unlike the US, where the 30% tax credit in 2009 and 2010 applied to virtually every certified wood stove on the market, the French have used the tax credit to incentivize manufacturers to build cleaner products and for consumers to buy them. However, Flamme Verte’s is not a particularly strict standard. It allows higher emissions than most or all other European eco-labels, particularly in Germany where standards are getting progressively stricter. Most stoves on market in France are 71 – 77% efficiency (LHV), whereas pellet stoves are at least 10 points higher.

Maximum emission and efficiency standards set by the European EN standards are not particularly strict, which has opened the door to many eco-labels, such as Blue Angel, Nordic Swan, Flamme Verte, DINplus, etc. Usually, government incentives are tied to standards set by the eco-labels. Similarly, an NSPS that sets 70% efficiency threshold and a 4.5 gram an hour emission limit for both wood and pellet stoves leaves much room for stricter standards by either Energy Star or a private label. European manufacturers say eco-labels have been a driver of sales, whereas in the US the stove industry association appears neutral or wary of such a label. Incentives in Europe have also helped to move consumers from fireplaces to stoves and from wood to pellets, a policy tool that has yet to be used in the US except very locally, in changeout programs.

Observations on technology:

1. Wood and pellet stoves and boilers are increasingly being tied into other renewable systems. Solar thermal systems and wood and pellet stoves can be integrated – not just with boilers. Stoves and air source heat pumps are also combined to use the same ducting, which provides AC in the summer.

2. Many brands heat water for both domestic hot water use and for space heating. In addition to many French manufacturers, UK’s Hamlet – which makes small stoves – and Spain’s Bronpi offer hot water options. Why isn’t such a stove on the market in the US?

3. Some major brands, such as French manufacturers Supra and Fondis, have heat exchangers and ducts to other rooms in addition to fans that push hot hair through the ducts to heat adjacent rooms or other floors.

4. There are some units on the market that use electronically controlled air adjustments to reduce emissions. These are called electric “Advanced control loops” (draft control according to temperature and flow rate of flue gases).

5. Unlike their reputation in the US for being small, many European brands offer fireboxes that can take pieces of wood between 20 and 28 inches long. On the other end of the spectrum, British stove maker Hamlet makes many stoves that take pieces of wood as small as 7 – 10 inches, making them ideal for small rooms and boats.

6. Many brands offer cook stoves that are just as efficient and low emission as stoves that achieve relevant eco-label standards.

7. In England they have developed a sophisticated system of only allowing certain types of stoves and fuels in high pollution areas such as London. The “smoke control zones” set out by DEFRA require that all stoves be approved for use. This mainly restricts fuels to pellets and manufactured logs; however, it does allow wood in some very low emission equipment, including in a select few American made stoves. For more information:

8. Some brands use catalysts that are electrically preheated to effectively reduce particulates even during the first 5 – 10 minute start-up period.

The European equivalent of the HPBA Expo is in France from March 22 – 25, 2012 and promises to showcase many technological advances. More of us from the US should be there:

John Ackerly
August, 2011