Rural low-income families the new growth leaders in renewable energy production
October 10, 2011 - Recently released US Census figures show the number of households heating with wood grew 34% between 2000 and 2010, faster than any other heating fuel. Electricity showed the second fastest growth, with a 24% increase over the last decade.
In two states, households using wood as a primary heat source more than doubled - Michigan (135%) and Connecticut (122%). And in six other states, wood heating grew by more than 90% - New Hampshire (99%), Massachusetts (99%), Maine (96%), Rhode Island (96%), Ohio (95%) and Nevada (91%).
Census data also shows that low and middle-income households are much more likely to use wood as a primary heating fuel, making low and middle-income families growth leaders of the residential renewable energy movement. According to the EIA, residential wood heat accounts for 80% of residential renewable energy, solar 15% and geothermal 5%.
“Heating with wood may not be hip like solar, but it’s proving to be the workhorse of residential renewable energy production,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat, a non-profit organization based in Maryland.
The rise of wood and wood pellets in home heating is driven by the climbing cost of oil, the economic downturn and the movement to use renewable energy. The Census Bureau does not track the reason people switch fuels but in states like Maine and New Hampshire where rising oil prices are squeezing household budgets, it is clear that many families simply feel the need to cut heating costs.
“The rise of wood heat is good news for offsetting fossil fuels, achieving energy independence, creating jobs and helping families affordably heat their homes,” said Mr. Ackerly.
“However, Wood heat’s rapid rise is not just from people using clean pellet and EPA certified wood stoves. Many people are also dusting off old and inefficient stoves and in some states installing outdoor boilers that create too much smoke,” cautions Ackerly.
Over the last decade, the number of households using two of the most expensive heating fuels significantly declined: propane dropped 16% and oil heat dropped 21%. Some of those homes undoubtedly switched to wood. Switching from fossil fuels to commercially purchased wood heat can reduce a home’s heating bills by half or more. Those who cut or collect their own wood save much more, using their labor to zero out heating bills.
Currently about 25-30% of the 12 million stoves in the U.S. are clean burning pellet stoves or EPA certified wood stoves, according to the EPA and other sources. Americans have installed about one million pellet stoves since the 1980s when they were invented.
Wood now ranks third in the most common heating fuels after gas and electricity for both primary and secondary heating fuel use, but ranks fifth, after oil and propane as well, when only primary heat fuel is considered. As of 2010, 2.1% of American homes, or 2,382,737 households, use wood as a primary heat source, up from 1.6% in 2000. About 10 - 12% of American households use wood when secondary heating is counted, according to the US Census Bureau and the Energy Information Agency (EIA).
The rapid rise in wood heat as a primary heating fuel is mainly a rural phenomenon, and to a lesser extent a suburban trend. According to the US census, 57% of households who primarily heat with wood live in rural areas, 40% in suburban areas and only 3% in urban areas.
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The Alliance for Green Heat promotes wood and pellet heat as a low-carbon, sustainable and affordable energy solution. The Alliance works toward cleaner and more efficient wood heating appliances, particularly for low and middle-income families. The Alliance is a 510c3 non-profit organization based in Maryland.
To download the full press release, visit: http://www.forgreenheat.org/resources/press.pdf