Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Vacuum left after one of nation’s top stove regulators and experts retires

When Rod Tinnemore was invited to speak about wood stoves, he didn’t sound like a regulator.  He spoke his mind, he made people laugh and he was never at a loss for words.  Rod was in charge of wood heater regulations in Washington State, the state with the toughest regulations in the country.  By the time he retired in April 2017, he left behind a far-flung community of stakeholders who admired him – or at least respected his judgment.

Rod Tinnemore became an Environmental Planner at the Department of Ecology in 2008, years after the state was pummeled by industry for the audacious move of requiring all heaters to meet a standard of 4.5 grams of particulate per hour.   Rod became the guy who enforced that decision, and it was one he was happy to enforce, because he felt stoves could and should be required to burn cleaner than the federal standard of 7.5 grams an hour.

Washington State also required that all stoves sold and installed in the state be EPA certified.  To enforce this, Rod regularly emailed residents residents trying to sell old, uncertified stoves on Craigslist.  “Most people didn’t know the regulations and were happy to discard the stove instead, but some just sold it another way.  Periodically, we found big box stores selling new, uncertified stoves and had to send them overnight certified letters as well,” Rod recalled.

Rod’s retirement leaves a vacuum among the regulator community, as there are very few non-federal stove regulators who have the depth of experience and expertise that Rod had.  He influenced policies in change out programs in Washington State and beyond and was one of the most influential state regulators in the EPA's process to develop the New Source Performance Standards (NSPSP).

“Rod was able to build bridges between different factions and he was a diplomat – but he also knew when to take a stand,” said Lisa Rector, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Northeast States for Coordinated Air use Management (NESCAUM).

Many key figures in the wood stove industry thought highly of Rod, in part because he was accessible, responsive and practical.  “Rod had a healthy appetite for knowledge and was a great listener with no preconceived bias.  He was always asking great questions so as expand his knowledge base,” said Chris Neufeld, a vice president at Blaze King and Co-chair of the solid fuel section of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA).

Some in industry butted heads with Rod because Washington State regulations prevented almost all outdoor and indoor wood boilers from being sold and installed in Washington.  But even companies representing those appliances often said that they he dealt with them fairly.

At least once, in 2013 when HPBA did not like an initiative Rod was spearheading, they had a lobbyist go to the legislature to send a message that Rod’s department’s funding could be in jeopardy if he pursued the initiative.  Rod ultimately had to back off, ending his exploratory work to start a consumer green label for wood stoves.

Rod was also considered one of the insiders of a small group of regulators in the United States who really knew what he was talking about.   Rachel Sakata, who did similar work for the State of Oregon as an Air Quality Planner, said that she continually relied on Rod’s expertise.  “Rod also was a champion for pushing for cleaner devices and thanks in part to him, we now have stricter regulations for wood heating devices that help protect the public,” said Ms. Sakata.  “And he continued to push for developing testing protocols that mimic real world conditions,” she said.

The Alliance for Green Heat also worked closely with Rod, recruiting him to serve as a convener and a judge for our Wood Stove Design Challenge events in 2013 and 2014.  He also served on a committee that we pulled together to integrate stoves into energy audits, leading to BPI adopting them in 2015.  The Alliance was also one of the stakeholders urging Rod to develop a consumer green label for stoves.

After Rod left office, the Alliance for Green Heat interviewed him, in between various trips and activities, for this blog.

Q. What do you consider one of your successes?
A. Working on and helping to fund a new cordwood test protocol that someday could become a Federal Reference Method (pdf) or possibly a state sanctioned cordwood protocol. We focused on testing various tree species to see which ones produced more PM, but most importantly we tried to get a protocol that resembled how homeowners start and use their stoves – which Method 28 did not. This initiative is now being managed by NESCAUM using Mark Champion’s lab in Vermont and I am very pleased with how it’s progressing.

Q. What was something that you did not succeed at?
A. Not being able to continue working on a consumer green label for wood stoves. This country needed a label to recognize high performing stoves and we still don’t have one that is robust and well recognized.

Q. Who were your closest colleagues?
A. Decades ago, West Coast regulators led the efforts to reduce wood smoke, but more recently, its shifted to the East Coast. California is very progressive but not influential on wood smoke issues because it is so fragmented into so many air districts. Other than Oregon, it was more fruitful for me to work with NESCAUM, NYSERDA, Brookhaven National Lab and the Wood Stove Design Challenge events.

Q. What was the best advice your boss ever gave you?
A. He told me early on that my job could be whatever I made of it.

Q. What was best guidance from your department?
A. The Department of Ecology had a policy of returning phone calls within 24 hours and emails within 48 hours. I thought that was good policy and I tried to live up to it every day.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New York adds efficiency requirement to pellet stove incentive program

This month, New York became the first state in the country to set a minimum efficiency requirement in an ongoing pellet stove incentive program.  The State will now only provide its $1,500 - $2,000 rebates to pellet stoves that are listed as 70% efficiency (HHV) or higher on the EPA’s list of certified stoves.

Two other states use efficiency values and a third is about to announce a similar change in their program.  Oregon has long provided far higher rebates to stoves with higher efficiency listings on the EPA list of wood and pellet stoves.  Massachusetts’ annual change-out program gives an additional rebate if the stove is listed at 65% or higher on the EPA stove list. 

The change in New York’s program, run by the New York State Energy and Research Development Agency (NYSERDA), will limit the number of currently eligible pellet stoves to about 30 models.  NYSERDA also requires that pellet stoves emit no more than 2 grams an hour and that the home does not have access to natural gas, two requirements that the Maryland rebate program also has. 

Last year, NYSERDA gave rebates to help install about 500 pellet stoves and the Maryland program averages about 800 pellet stoves per year.  In both states, this is a significant boost to pellet stove sales.  One of the biggest differences between the two programs is that New York requires the trade-in of an old wood stove, unless you are a low income household, but the Maryland program does not.

Part of the motivation by states and programs to require that stoves have an efficiency listed on the EPA list of stoves is to counter the widespread misinformation provided by manufacturers to consumers.  The Alliance for Green Heat has consistently urged incentive and change out program managers to include efficiency and other best practices in program design. 

This can be particularly problematic with lower income families who may have tried to calculate savings when purchasing a pellet stove, and are relying on manufacturer claims to get one of the higher efficiency stoves.  Incentive and change out programs that give larger amounts to lower income households may be helping those families purchase pellet stoves that are under 60% efficient, saddling them with higher fuel costs for the lifetime of the appliance.

The New York program provides a rebate of $2,000 for lower income households compared to $1,500 for others, and now protects them from misleading information about efficiencies.  A large portion of the NYSERDA rebate recipients are low-income households.  Both New York and Massachusetts qualify lower income families if they earn less than 80% of median income.  The Massachusetts program was the first to use efficiency in a change out program, giving an additional $500 for stoves listed at 65% or higher on the EPA list of certified stoves.  Stoves made by manufacturers who do not disclose actual, tested efficiencies to the public are not eligible for the bonus in Massachusetts or for anything in New York.  Massachusetts also gives a higher rebate amount if you purchase an automated wood stove.

Many retailers welcome the change, as they are often caught between manufacturer efficiency claims and confused consumers.  Colin Miller of Mallarney's Garden Center in North Bangor NY says he supports the changes because they help his customers save money "with more efficient stoves and its good for the environment."

The main hearth industry association representing residential wood and pellet stoves, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, does not recommend only incentivizing cleaner and more efficient stoves, and urges program managers to "incentivize replacing old stoves with anything that is cleaner burning." HPBA provided this statement about the changes in the NYSERDA program: “Unfortunately, there are some very clean, and potentially very efficient, pellet stoves that were certified before efficiency data was required by the new NSPS, but NYSERDA's program requirements exclude them from consumers' options.”

Of the approximately 30 pellet stoves that are 2 grams an hour or less and 70% efficiency or more, there are a wide range of more expensive brands carried by specialty hearth stores and very inexpensive ones carried by big box stores.  And more than a third emit no more than 1 gram an hour.  The most efficient pellet stoves on the EPA list, from the Italian Extraflame line, are 87% and 85% efficiency, but do not appear to be on the US market yet.

For consumer tips on how to choose a wood or pellet stove, this website offers advice on stove selection, installation, rebates in your state and how to know when a stove needs replacing.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Are we ready for the 100% renewable energy movement?


by John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat
reprinted from Biomass Magazine

Many in the biomass heating movement bemoan warm winters, low fossil fuel prices and the slow pace of conversions to biomass heating systems.  But systems are being put in place to adopt renewable heating and that we can be part of, but we are not.

Scores of cities across the US and Canada have already pledged to go 100% renewable.  Even more will be announcing their plans in the next year or two.  Some cities are only focusing on 100% renewable electricity, but many are adopting a two stage approach.  The first stage addresses electricity needs while the second stage addresses heating.

Take Portland, Oregon, Hanover, New Hampshire and East Hampton, New York. Portland is shooting for 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and plans to tackle heating from 2035 to 2050.  Hanover is planning for 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable heating by 2050.  East Hampton, NY is moving even faster: 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and 100% renewable heating by 2030. Much of this heating will be fueled by electricity but chip and pellet systems could also be in demand.

A parallel trend is the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) movement.  To be considered a ZNE building, a house,  There is no one accepted definition of ZNE, so cities, campuses and communities have some leeway in how they define it.  A strict definition says biomass has to be grown and harvested on-site, but other definitions could include biomass harvested from within 30 miles, for example.  After all, the sun isn’t on-site either but the energy from it is produced on-site. 
building or campus, it cannot use more energy than the renewable energy it generates.

The point is that aggressive renewable energy strategies need to address heating and if the biomass community is not at the table, we may be left out of policies and definitions.  The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association has been at the table in some instances, but they are mostly fighting with the natural gas industry against gas restrictions in ZNE initiatives. 

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC) is a natural leader for this type of advocacy, as they represent industry players that heat buildings and campuses.  This advocacy is not cheap and could easily require a full time person to engage with all the organizations and agencies involved in these movements.  But this would be an investment in the future that would pay dividends over the next 10 – 20 years. 

The renewable electricity movement is taking off because laws require utilities to sell or produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.  The mandates typically increase until a target year, such as 20% renewables by 2020, or 25% renewables by 2025.  Legislatures can do this because state-level public service commissions (PSCs) have authority over public and private utilities.  But why don’t we regulate the heating grid the same way as we regulate the electric grid? 

Piped gas is just like electricity in many respects and is regulated in many of the same ways, but are there any gas companies required to ensure that 20% of their BTUs are renewable by 2020?  If gas companies had to install some percentage of their business as geothermal, solar thermal or biomass thermal, the renewable thermal sector would develop quickly, just as renewable electricity has.  Gas companies could install the systems themselves, just like utilities can install their own wind turbines or solar farms, or buy renewable energy credits from companies who build and operate them. 

During these Trump years, federal policy and funding of renewables will dwindle, but that is making some states, cities and campuses even more motivated to push forward.  Renewable heating is part of the equation, but are we at the table?


(This article is reprinted from Biomass Magazine.  The Biomass Magazine version had a slight error in the text.)

Could a Thermoelectric Wood Stove Pay for Itself?

By Ken Adler, AGH Senior Technical Advisor

Payback calculations are common in the residential solar photovoltaic industry where homeowners want to know how long it will take for them to recoup their initial investment. If you purchase panels outright, payback periods depend on a variety of factors including a utility’s price for electricity, tax incentives, and amount of daily sunlight hours. A range of 5 to 8 years is possible however, it can be as wide as 3 to 15 years.[1]

Answering the payback question for thermoelectric wood stoves is one of the objectives for the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge. In the meantime, there are several ways to begin answering this question with information already available. It is also useful to look at how use of a thermoelectric wood stove in combination with another energy-saving system, i.e., solar, could prove beneficial to the homeowner and thus both industries as well. For example, in northern states and Canada, a thermoelectric wood stove could reduce the number of residential panels needed and thereby save the homeowner thousands of dollars in panel costs.

Early Thoughts on Payback


The retail price of a thermoelectric module is around $57.50 for a 22-watt module, or $2.61 per watt.[2] One critical point to make here is that the power output of our 22-watt module assumes an optimal hot-side temperature of 300 C (572 F) and cool-side temperature of 30 C (86 F). This ideal temperature differential is very difficult to achieve in real world conditions, so the real-world cost per watt for thermoelectric modules will be higher. However, cost should decrease and efficiency improve with widespread adoption of thermoelectric modules, similar to what happened in the solar industry. For example, DOE estimated that the installed cost of a solar panel declined from $7.06 per watt in 2009 to $2.93 in 2016, a reduction of 60 percent.[3] If we go back to 1977, the cost of a solar panel was $77 per watt. It is not unreasonable to expect a decline for the cost of thermoelectric modules as economies of scale reduce production costs.

Of course, when a thermoelectric module is placed into a wood stove there are other associated costs. The primary cost by far is the heat exchange system. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, to generate at least 100 watts of power, it’s likely that a water-cooled heat exchange will be needed. The current retail price for a 100-watt water cooled thermoelectric generator, which includes eight thermoelectric modules, is $599, or $5.99 per watt. One question the competition will attempt to answer is how much this heat exchange will cost when it is integrated into the design of the wood stove.

Secondary cost considerations include the price of the wood stove, its installation, and fuel costs. The price for a larger size 50,000 BTU wood stove can range from $900 to over $4000, and the average consumer spends about $2,500. Since a thermoelectric wood stove would be providing both heat and electricity, it is difficult to separate out how much of the cost of the stove is for each function. The more crucial point for now is that many larger size stoves, which can generate up to 50,000 BTUs and meet the 2020 EPA NSPS standard, are available for as little as $1,300. While this does not include the cost of installation, it does suggest that the wood stove portion of the costs should not be a major obstacle.

The cost of installing a thermoelectric wood stove into a home should not necessarily be that much greater than the cost of installing a traditional wood stove. One additional cost will be attaching the power outputs from the thermoelectric wood stove to an inverter. However, if we assume that early adopters will already have or are planning to get a solar PV system (more on this below) the cost of the inverter would not be a major obstacle.

Finally, one can assume that the fuel cost for a thermoelectric wood stove is essentially zero because the wood stove is already being used to heat the home. A thermoelectric module will convert only 3 to 6 percent of the heat from a woodstove into electricity, while the remaining 94 to 97 percent passes through the module and is released as heat into the home. In other words, the module is only using a very small percentage of the heat generated by the stove to produce electricity.

Value in Combining Technologies

While more in-depth analysis is needed, it’s possible that a thermoelectric wood stove could help reduce the size and cost of solar PV systems in northern climates that have limited sunlight/solar radiation in winter. For example, a typical 5000 watt solar PV system in Vermont produces 6,280 kWh of electricity per year, while the same system produces 7,913 kWh in Los Angeles.[4] Most of this difference is due to the low winter time output in Vermont between October and February: For example, the Vermont system produces 239 kWh in December, as compared to the Los Angeles system’s 473 kWh. If the Vermont resident wanted to generate the same amount of power as in Los Angeles, they would need to increase the size of their solar PV system from 5000 watts to approximately 6300 watts. At the current cost of approximately $3.36[5] per watt installed for residential solar, this could cost the Vermont resident an additional $4,368 for additional solar panels.

Alternatively, instead of purchasing extra solar panels, the Vermont resident could invest in a thermoelectric wood stove to boost their winter time power output. As we mentioned in our previous blog, a wood stove with a 150 to 200-watt thermoelectric generator operating 16 - 20 hours per day could generate 93 to 124kWh of electricity per month, which would be a good boost to the Vermont output of 239 kWh in December. And, at 0.16 $/kWh for electricity in Vermont, the thermoelectric wood stove could save the homeowner an additional $15 to $20 per month.

While a real payback calculation for a thermoelectric wood stove will need to wait until prototypes go through more testing and we get results from the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge, the available information suggests thermoelectric wood stoves could help reduce the cost of residential solar installations, and potentially save homeowners thousands of dollars.


[1] http://solar-power-now.com/the-typical-solar-panel-payback-period/
[2] See our Resources page for a list of thermoelectric retailers.
[3] NREL. U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark. September 2016. In 1977, solar panels cost $77 per watt.
[4] NREL PVWatts Calculator
[5] EnergySage. Solar Marketplace Intel Report. April 2017.