Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Case Study Finds Wood Costs Least of Alternative Energy Sources

 The Cumberland times ran an article yesterday titled "Don't Knock Wood as an Energy Source" discussing how Derrick Bender, University of Maryland Extension educator, is in the middle of a case study comparing the cost of using wood, wind and solar as alternative energy sources. The laboratory? A house in Cumberland, MD that has solar panels on one side, two wind turbines on the other and a wood-burning furnace in the garage.  

"According to numbers crunched thus far by Bender, a homeowner who self-installs a furnace and cuts his or her own wood will pay a little more than 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Having the furnace installed, but cutting own wood increase the cost to almost 6 cents per kWh. Having the furnace installed and buying wood jumps it again, this time to almost 13 cents per kwh.

On the other two hands, the cost for wind is almost 29 cents and the tab for solar almost 33 cents."

Bender will present a free workshop on Feb. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m., titled “More Heat, Less Firewood.” You can read the full article here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

AP Story from Maine on Wood Heat

The Associated Press recently wrote a story titled "Wood heat heats up as homeowners give boot to oil." The article focuses on the rise of wood heat in the state of Maine, but is also receiving national coverage. It has already been picked up by Dayton Daily News in Ohio, the Washington DC Examiner and perhaps more to come. The article cites recent home heating trends and quotes Alliance for Green Heat President John Ackerly:

You can read the full story here:

Monday, January 9, 2012

EPA Delays NSPS Again

Alliance for Green Heat, Jan. 6, 2012 - The long awaited proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for residential wood heaters is being delayed yet again. EPA claims that it will be out this summer for the 90-day public comment period, and noted in a PowerPoint presentation that since this NSPS is not court ordered, such delays are possible.

The Alliance for Green Heat believes the multiple delays in this proposed NSPS, which now add up to several years, have allowed tens of thousands of polluting outdoor wood boilers to be installed. It has also deprived consumers of being able to select more efficient, money saving wood and pellet stoves. Until real efficiency numbers are published, the consumer is left without one of the most important pieces of information in their purchase.

“Even before the recent belt-tightening at the EPA, the agency has not provided the resources that would allow it to efficiently carry out this NSPS,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance.  “Given the millions of low and middle-income families that rely on wood heaters, wood heaters should have more priority within the EPA.”

The EPA has publicly released a draft summary of the new NSPS, which will establish mandatory and stricter emissions thresholds for almost all wood heating appliances. (Fireplaces, pizza ovens, chimneys, etc. are still exempt.)

The new non-cat wood stove standards are one of the mildest, going from 7.5 to 4.5 grams an hour, a standard the EPA acknowledges is already met by 85% of wood stoves. However, in addition to particulates, a minimum 70% efficiency standard is being added (high heat value) to reduce carbon monoxide (CO). Real efficiency numbers will be disclosed for each stove for the first time.

Catalytic stoves are being held to a tighter standard (2.5 grams an hour), potentially giving them the reputation of being the cleanest stoves on the market. EPA noted that the catalytic hearth coalition is arguing that all wood stoves be held to the same standard. In the EPA’s PowerPoint presentation, the EPA said they are requesting “comments and data to support other options for promulgation, e.g., establishing one limit of 2.5 g/hr for both non-catalytic and catalytic stoves.”

In the boiler arena, there is a similar discrepancy as there is for wood stoves: indoor boilers are being held to a less strict standard than outdoor boilers, and the EPA is likely working to make the case that they should be. Boilers will have to meet one threshold in 2014/2015 and a stricter, Level 2 threshold in 2017. In this arena, the EPA is requesting “comments and data to support additional options for promulgation, such as co-proposal of Level 2 immediately”.

For pellet stoves, the EPA has set an emission level far above what most pellet stoves produce – 4.5 grams an hour, the same as wood stoves. If this occurs, the United States would be the only developed country that does not hold pellet stoves to a stricter standard than wood stoves. It may also undermine the ability of consumers to use pellet stoves on bad air quality days, when wood stoves can’t be used. The Alliance believes the pellet stove industry should be positioning itself as a cleaner alternative to wood stoves and suitable for densely inhabited areas. The EPA may be willing to lower that standard and says they are requesting “data and comments to support additional options for promulgation, e.g., tighten the level in “2015” to 2.5 g/hr.”

The EPA’s draft recommendation for single-burn-rate stoves is 3 grams an hour, and also a minimum of 70% efficiency, and they are requesting “comments and data to support additional options for promulgation, e.g., 2.5 g/hr.” The EPA also notes that single-burn-rate stoves have been the “largest exemption for wood stoves in existing NSPS in terms of number of units sold (>40,000 units/year).”

The EPA’s request for “comments and data” on all these appliances classes is laudable but there appear to be few data sets that the EPA doesn’t already have that are professional and substantial enough to make a difference. EPA has had to rely on industry to fund and produce various studies because EPA does not have the resources. This has put a financial strain on industry, which is essentially made up of a few dozen small manufacturers, but also given industry a more powerful position in the process.

Partly because of lack of resources, EPA was not able to undertake a number of initiatives that it considered in this NSPS. Also, as EPA noted in the PowerPoint, “Some states are disappointed that we are not proposing carbon monoxide (CO) emission limits, visible emission limits, and requirements for energy audits, proper sizing, heat storage, and certified installers.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wood Stove Changeouts Improved Air in Libby, but …


Four years after the changeout of 1,200 uncertified wood stoves in Libby, Montana, the definitive air quality study has been released.  Not surprisingly, it found that changing out stoves improved air quality and children’s health.  But some findings were surprising.  For one, indoor air quality did not always improve; in fact, it got worse in some homes.  Another interesting find was that no health differences could be found in kids from homes with wood stoves compared to those without them.  Overall, the air quality benefits were not as great as expected.  The detailed report was published along with a thorough critique of the report by health experts pointing toward what future studies should also consider. 

* Air emission standards in the United States typically regulate the specific type of device, the fuels, and heat outputs. A recent report indicated that this may allow gaps and variation in coverage, and some residential and small-to-medium–sized biomass units may not be subject to environmental regulations (Handley et al. 2009). In contrast, regulations in Europe are issued according to heat output and type of feeding device (manual or automatic), which provides 100% coverage. More importantly, European PM2.5 standards for wood-burning appliances are significantly lower at about 0.02 to 0.05 lb/million BTU heat output compared with state regulations in the United States at, for example, 0.1 lb/million BTU in Massachusetts and 0.6 lb/million BTU in New York State (Handley et al. 2009). This indicates that in the United States there is room for improvement in terms of reducing emissions from wood-burning appliances. (p. 40)

* It is not clear whether the total number of wood stoves in the community increased in the meantime, because more people may have chosen wood as a cheaper fuel, because of an increasing population size, or both. (p.43)

* In addition, there may be other sources of PM2.5 in the area, such as wood- or coal-burning fireplaces and boilers that were not covered by the changeout program. New York State has noted a tripling in the sales of outdoor wood boilers since the early 1990s (p. 44)

* The wood stove changeout program should be considered a success because 95% of older, high-polluting wood stoves in Libby, Montana, were replaced with more efficient certified wood stoves or with heating systems that did not burn wood. .. However, the air quality improvement was not as large as might have been expected based on the dominant contribution of wood burning to ambient PM2.5 concentrations in the area and the approximately 50% expected reduction in emissions anticipated from each certified stove compared with uncertified models. (p. 45)