Biomass boilers and the RHI: Get paid to heat your clubhouse

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 15, 2012 15:41

Amid all the recent economic doom and gloom, you may have missed a government announcement that could have a significantly positive effect on your golf club’s coffers.

After months of delay, the government has launched the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – a £860 million initiative that financially rewards golf clubs and other organisations in England, Scotland and Wales that generate renewable heat.

The scheme will provide funding towards those in the non-domestic sector that install, or have installed since July 15, 2009, renewable heat technologies including solid and gaseous biomass, solar thermal, ground and water source heat pumps, on-site biogas, deep geothermal, energy from waste and the injection of biomethane into the grid.

Furthermore, last year the government launched the Woodfuel Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG) in England. This initiative is designed to increase the amount of wood entering the supply chain from currently under-utilised woodlands. It offers 60 per cent towards the cost of woodland management work.

In other words, golf clubs that convert waste to heating energy via the burning of waste wood – particularly from their own course or surrounds – can get paid to cover the cost of the work and to generate the energy – even though the heat being made can replace the costly system they may already have in their clubhouses. And plenty of parkland golf clubs already deploy this form of technology.

Wood-fuelled heating

Wood-fuelled heating systems, also called biomass systems, burn wood pellets, chips or logs to power a clubhouse’s central heating systems and hot water boilers.

Under the RHI, a club could receive 4.9 pence per kWh for a biomass boiler between 200 kWh and 1,000 kWh in size, which is applicable for many larger golf clubs, for the installed capacity multiplied by 1,314 peak load hours. Above this tier, it drops to 2 pence per kWh. Smaller clubs producing less than 200 kWh can receive 7.9 pence per kWh (only solar thermal, which pays 8.5 pence per kWh is more lucrative than this band under the RHI), but this will fall to 2 pence if they go above the tier, while larger facilities – those above 1,000 kWh, can receive a flat 1 pence per kWh.

Clubhouses will have meters installed to measure the amount of heat generated, and the clubs will be paid for the amount of usable heat generated every quarter over 20 years. Once in the scheme, the level of support an installation will receive is fixed, although it will be adjusted annually with inflation.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, will oversee the scheme, including processing applications, accrediting installations and making payments to recipients.

According to the Forestry Commission, while there are negative perceptions surrounding cutting trees to heat properties, wood-fuelled heating is actually very environmentally friendly.

“The use of woodlands to provide useful timber and other products need not cause environmental degradation and if well managed may result in improvements to the woodland area for wildlife,” said a spokesman.

“The carbon dioxide emitted when wood is burned is the same amount that was absorbed over the months and years that the plant was growing. The process is sustainable as long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel,” added a spokesman for the Energy Saving Trust (EST). “There are some carbon emissions caused by the cultivation, manufacture and transportation of the fuel, but as long as the fuel is sourced locally, these are much lower than the emissions from fossil fuels.

“Wood boilers are larger than gas or oil equivalents and you will need a flue which meets the regulations for wood-burning appliances, but a golf club would save hundreds of pounds per year on their heating bills by having them – and thousands if they are replacing an LPG system.”

The spokesman added that an environmental audit will determine whether it would be viable for your club to go down this route. If it is of interest, then a National Biomass Suppliers’ Database has been launched by the Biomass Energy Centre. Its website makes it possible to identify local and national companies which can supply golf clubs with woodfuel.


Biomass boilers are expensive, but funding can be available. As well as, for example, the Carbon Trust, Kemnay Golf Club in Aberdeenshire was given £37,000 of funding under the Scottish ‘Biomass Heat Scheme’ and an EST loan of £61,000, and its boiler was officially opened by Sir Robert Smith last month.

“When Kemnay’s clubhouse was built in 2000 few anticipated how energy costs would spiral over the coming decade,” said club spokesman David Fyffe. “The clubhouse, with extensive windows, was powered by electricity but was poorly insulated.”

To commemorate its centenary year, in 2008, the club looked at making its clubhouse more economical for the long term.

“We felt the best thing we could do at a time when costs were rising was to make a major inroad into our cost base,” said David. “The first step was to call in experts to run a complete audit of our energy efficiency from both ‘building design and material efficiency’ and ‘existing heating and lighting systems’. We took advice from both public and private experts to ensure that we covered all angles.

“As a result of these surveys the very extensive roof void was identified as being under-insulated as well as housing a redundant smoke-extraction ventilation system that contributed to unnecessary draughts in cold and windy weather.

“One of our members took care of that, and another installed energy efficient lighting. We then installed solar panels to deliver hot water for the kitchen and showers, contracting Solar Scotia to fit them on the club’s south-west facing kitchen roof.

“But to make a larger impact on costs, the club sought a renewable energy solution for our central heating system, taking into account local resources for fuel supply.

“We decided on wood pellets as the most appropriate energy source, on the grounds of convenience of supply and maintenance. A lorry delivers them in 10-tonne loads every four to six months and sacks of pellets can be utilised as an emergency backup.

“The club had initially considered wood chip as the preferred option because of its abundance locally. However, it was discounted after concerns about consistency of product size, humidity and the possibility of jams. And unlike the smaller wood pellets, chips would need robust machinery to move them about and fill the hopper.

“The club looked into ground source heat pumps, but their ongoing electrical supply costs and longer payback period made this a less attractive option.

“We also considered a wind turbine, however indications that we would not be able to site a turbine in such a location as to regularly benefit from wind in the top quartile of turbine performance measurement gave us the feeling that the other alternatives would be more reliable and, in particular, were better suited to reducing our principle energy cost – that of heating the premises and providing hot water.”

The club went back to the idea of a biomass boiler, but calculated the total project cost at £98,000. Kemnay therefore applied for a Scottish Biomass Heat Scheme grant from Forestry Commission Scotland and was awarded £37,000. For the balance it applied successfully for an interest free EST loan, repayable over eight years.

The club put the project out to tender and, with free advice from the EST and support from Aberdeenshire Council, in October 2010 Highland Wood Energy installed the wood pellet boiler linked to a large, new hot water holding tank. The biomass system tops up the temperature of the hot water already supplied by the solar energy system, as well as exclusively servicing the central heating system.

Since then, a new wet central heating system has been installed throughout the clubhouse, and the club is looking at a a heat extraction system for the kitchens, to feed back into the hot water system.

“The switch to solar panel and biomass energy has been immediately cost effective,” said David. “In the year to end of November 2011 versus 2010 the club has saved £6,500 on electricity costs – even after the cost of wood pellets. We anticipate full payback of our biomass boiler installation outlay within less than eight years. The improved roof void insulation will only accelerate this process.

“In addition the club expects to receive a useful government payment of about £250 per year from our solar panel installation for the next 20 years.

“The only, minor downside is a green 30 feet container sitting beside the clubhouse. This will eventually be screened by plants and trees have already been planted along the top to hide it from the main part of the course.  In the meantime club members appreciate it is there for a very good reason.

“Golf clubs have to be careful that they are working with people who have got real knowledge and experience. It is essential to visit and really understand several projects before you decide which to contract. We’d like to encourage other clubs to follow our example. It has been hard work but, after all, if a golf club can’t have a really green identity then what can?”

Maften Hall

Matfen Hall Hotel, Golf and Spa in Northumberland, an 1830s mansion converted into a 53-bedroom hotel and golf club, uses its own woodchip to heat its hotel, ensuring the hotel is both carbon neutral and is saving thousands of pounds which it previously spent on oil.

The hotel, set in 300 acres of parkland, previously used 165,000 litres of oil a year – and 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide – for heating and hot water. In 2011 it installed what is believed to be one of the largest biomass boilers serving any hotel in the country, which is powered by chips that are taken from sustainably-managed trees in the grounds of the estate, which would have previously been categorised as waste. The timber is allowed to dry for at least a year, reducing the water content of the wood from 60 per cent to 30 per cent. The logs are then converted into woodchips and are burned in the boiler, which is in a redundant bungalow next to the hotel, which has been converted into a bespoke energy centre with a ground-level fuel store with a self-opening roof built next to it. A 100 metre pre-insulated plastic pipe connects the energy centre to the hotel.

A rotary arm fuel extractor automatically transports the fuel into the Fröling Turbomat 500kW boiler. The boiler is expected to use 450 tonnes of seasoned woodchip annually to supply 1.1MWh of renewable biomass heat for the hotel.

The project was brought to fruition by Econergy, which looked after the design, installation, commissioning of the new energy centre, pre-insulated heat mains and connections into the hotel at two locations.

Fuel is delivered by either a tractor and trailer or a telescopic handler, through the hatch built into the roof of the store.

Like all fully automated wood boilers, the Matfen Hall boiler is smoke free and over 90 per cent efficient.

“Thinning is a very necessary process for good woodland management and it made so much sense to use the chippings,” said the hotel’s owner, Sir Hugh Blackett. “In 2010 we installed a smaller biomass boiler to fuel my own home and two cottages. It worked very well – we have already saved the cost of over 25,000 litres of oil – and we realised immediately that there were considerable environmental and financial advantages. As we use such a huge amount of fuel for the hotel and have such a large volume of timber available from the estate’s 500 acres of woodland, it is the perfect solution.

“At Matfen Hall we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and caring for the environment and how better to do this than to supply our own heating and hot water? To demonstrate to guests and visitors how the process works, we have installed an interpretation board, and are more than happy to give guided tours.”

Although installing the woodchip boiler has required significant investment, with the club currently purchasing oil at over 50 pence per litre, the long-term savings are anticipated to be considerable.

“Based on usage figures, the price of oil, fuel savings and RHI payments,” said a spokesman for Econergy, “Maften Hall, should be able to repay its investment on the plant in five to six years.”

Greetham Valley

Greetham Valley Hotel and Golf Club in Rutland also decided that it was time to consider an alternative fuel heating system for the clubhouse, hotel and other buildings it owns, due to the rising cost of oil.

Having looked at the options, the club decided that wood-fuel heating would be the most practical, as woodchip was available locally.

“The owners of Greetham Valley used the Eco Link system to provide heating and hot water. The 300kW woodchip boiler supplies heat for the 35-bedroom hotel, eight log cabins, two houses and the 15,000 square feet golf club,” said a spokesman for Eco Link.

“With an automated woodchip system, the positioning of the fuel store needs to be adjacent to the boiler room. The positioning of this store is important as fuel deliveries need to be as simple as possible and will often dictate the positioning of the boiler room within the site. A simple method of unloading the fuel will result in a reduction of fuel costs as it removes the need for specialist equipment.

“The use of a pre-insulated heat transfer mains facilitates the heating of a network of properties from one central boiler. This is well suited to biomass systems where the cost of a boiler can be far greater than that of a traditionally-fuelled alternative. District heating networks with a close grouping of heated units, as in this case, can significantly reduce the capital cost per property. The intensity of heat load placed on the boiler is greater due to system diversity, allowing a more efficient boiler operation. This, together with much reduced fuel cost per kWh, leads to significant savings.”

The automation of fuel feeding allows the boiler to increase or reduce the amount of fuel it burns to match demand, enabling better fuel economy. In addition, for every tree the club coppices for the woodchip burner, it plants two more.

“The ‘holy grail’ aim is to eventually becoming carbon neutral,” said Dee Hinch, Greetham Valley’s business director. “We have installed a biomass boiler which is powered by woodchip, some of which is produced on–site from our own coppiced trees. This massive and very clever boiler provides heat and hot water for all eight of our lodges, heat and hot water for our lounge bar, restaurants and golf club changing rooms and hot water for our hotel.”

In addition, the club uses wood from sustainable Norwegian forests for its lodges, harvests rainwater from its roof to irrigate the golf course, has constructed a reed bed to improve the quality of discharge water, produces biodiesel on-site from its used kitchen oil which fuels the golf course machinery, erected eight owl and eight kestrel boxes across the estate, has constructed 19 ponds and lakes across the golf course which have attracted a diversity of flora and fauna, composts vegetable food waste from the kitchen along with grass cuttings, recycles glass, cardboard, newspaper and ink cartridges and has planted 25,000 trees across the estate in the last 20 years.

Bowood Spa

In 2008, the new Bowood Spa Hotel and Golf Club in Wiltshire, which has extensive forestry operations, also embarked on this technology to heat its clubhouse and conference centre – but was concerned about the visual impact it would create. Therefore, a semi-sunken energy centre with timber cladding, powder-coated flues and screening by mature trees was built for a 320kW woodchip boiler and two standby gas boilers, and pre-insulated plastic heat mains pipes connect the biomass boiler to the buildings across the estate. The club used a local firm to construct the boiler room and trenches.

“An underground fuel bunker is used, which is fitted with a rotary arm fuel extractor and slide-open woodfuel loading hatch,” said a spokesman. “A high level car park allows woodchip to be tipped directly into the fuel bunker. Fuel is delivered by a tipping tractor trailer. The boiler uses about 250 tonnes of seasoned woodchip sourced from the estate’s woodland to supply approximately 750MWh of renewable biomass heat for the facility, saving 150 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.”

“This paid for itself in energy savings within 27 months. The client saves £86,000 a year on gas bills,” said architect Jeremy Blake.

Furthermore, this approach clearly has a good PR value. At the time, The Times newspaper described Bowood as ‘the greenest hotel of all time’.

The Oaks

A few years ago, The Oaks Golf Club & Spa in Yorkshire installed four kerosene boilers, but by 2007 these were consuming around £30,000-worth of fuel per year, which was set to rise by 50 per cent within a year.

As subscriptions are set a year in advance, the club could not offset price increases among the membership.

“The club already grew oil seed rape and saw the opportunity to crush its own crop producing oil for a diesel generator plus rape meal for a biomass boiler to replace the kerosene boilers,” said a spokesman for J Riley Beet Harvesters and Multi-burners. “Then prices rocketed, which meant the by-product became too valuable to burn. So plan B was established: woodchip would fuel the biomass boiler, with an envisaged £30,000-plus saving a year.”

The golf club identified a 30 acre flood plain that would be ideal for moisture-loving willows, and planted 10 acres a year for the next three years. The club then identified a local source of woodchips and purchased around 400 tonnes to stock a redundant grain store. Winter fuel consumption is at about five tonnes per week, which drops to three in the summer.

The REKA biomass boiler was soon identified as the boiler option and a 200kW unit was installed. The scheme is sited within a purpose-built boiler house containing the boiler, an auger-fed fuel hopper comprising a second-hand, slightly modified diet feeder trailer and a skid-mounted 1.5 tonne wheat tote bin for the ash.

A member of staff checks the system each morning, while an integral air blast system clears the pipes every 20 minutes, reducing manual pipe maintenance to once per month.

Hot water from the boiler is piped underground straight into the existing heating system. The kerosene boilers have been retained as backup and should output from the biomass boiler fall below a preset level, they will automatically take over.

The boiler cost £35,000 and the investment was recovered by 2010 – just three years after the boiler was built.

To apply for the Renewable Heat Incentive, please visit the Ofgem website, For more on the Woodland Improvement Grant, visit the Forestry Commission’s website, To see a biomass suppliers’ database, go to

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 15, 2012 15:41
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  1. Jim October 25, 04:33

    Thanks for this.

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  2. kissimmee golf February 15, 18:58

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