Price, carbon footprint, availability… Is wood heating the solution to the energy crisis?

In the village of Milizac (Finistère), the sale of wood pellets almost turned into a fight at the end of last August. “Customers rushed to the department when it opened, the queue was so long that we could not close the doors of the store”, recalls manager. Result: the available wood stock was sold in record time and few buyers became “unmanageable”. “People are sitting on their bags to reserve them, people are grabbing them from their handsexplained the shopkeeper. We are on the edge of the fight.”

How to explain this attack? The energy crisis, which has resulted in a sharp rise in gas and electricity prices, has prompted many French people to turn to wood, hoping to save money. But the explosion in demand has also pushed up prices, in addition to significantly extending delivery times. So, is wood a good solution to escape the energy crisis? Information on France make the point.

A generally light bill… but that is increasing this winter

Wood is the cheapest energy for heating. This is the observation made in 2016 by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe). Thus it is estimated that the bill for households heating with wood amounts to an average of 811 euros per year, compared to 1,415 euros and 1,726 euros respectively for gas or electricity. “Historically, heating with wood is cheaper than all other systems because it is an abundant, local energy, therefore requires less transportation, and it requires less labor to change it”, explained Marion Vitel, subject referent of Ademe. What to do more and more followers. The Renewable Energies Observatory reports a 34.4% increase in the market for home wood burning appliances in 2022 compared to 2021.

This good deal can become less and less interesting. Unlike gas and electricity prices, wood prices, like other energies, are not regulated by the state. Depending on the suppliers, the fee may be higher or lower. And this winter, prices are rising. “At the national level, the ton of pellets passes the mark of 700 euros, compared to almost 320 euros in 2021”said Frédéric Plan, general delegate of the French Federation of Fuels, Fuels and Heating.

A lot has changed in recent weeks, pellets are less competitive with gas than we have seen in history, but it is still interesting compared to electricity. Timber remains competitive with all other energies”, shade Marion Vitel of ADEME. Mid-Septemberthe rural family association ASK to the government an extension of the tariff shield in homes that heat oil or wood, calls not to forget all the people who tried to take the tree were delivered and couldn’t”.

Supply tensions

Rising prices are not the only concern encountered by individuals who warm themselves with wood. The supply of wood pellets is particularly difficult this year. Currently it is necessary to calculate, in general, “one to two months” for the shipment of pellets, explains franceinfo Frédéric Plan, general delegate of French Federation of Fuels, Fuels and Heating (FF3C).

In Finistère, the manager of the store taken at the end of August was angry: “It’s the same mechanism as toilet paper during the lockdown, customers are buying twice as much wood as last year, for fear of a shortage, and this is exactly the reason for the logistical stress. If everyone eats that reasonable, no problem with quantity”. FF3C is still dependent “a probable shortage in the supply of wood pellets that can range from 5 to 15% depending on the severity of the winter”.

“If you have major wood heating installation projects, don’t start without a guarantee of supply in advance.”

Frédéric Plan, general delegate of FF3C

at franceinfo

The situation is more favorable for logs, which represent “85% of wood energy use”, recalls Frédéric Plan. “More than three-quarters of this timber is not supplied by commercial networks, the supply is made locally, by the private individual’s own means, who cuts his own wood for example. A tension in the commercial supply begins to make himself. felt, but less than the granules”, he continued. In any case, consider a context “likely to take a while”he called on consumers to be careful before attempting to install a new boiler or stove.

A limited carbon footprint (under certain conditions)

Another advantage of the fuel is its low carbon footprint. “It does not travel well over long distances, so even if the wood is sold to wholesalers, the supply radius rarely exceeds 50 or 100 kilometers. It is a local circuit” , said Eric Albert, head of the commercial timber department at the National Forestry Office. Unlike gas, this renewable energy needs very little to be imported from outside the country, so the weight of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is not too heavy.

However, its impact on the environment is not neutral. Poor combustion conditions, with wood that is too wet or appliances that are too old, are sources of large emissions of fine particles into the atmosphere. However, these microparticles are very harmful to humans. In France, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, wood heating is not good “the first contributor to this pollution”alone emits 43% of PM 2.5 microparticle emissions and 55% of PM 1.0.

How to fix it? “You have to choose your wood species carefully, some are more favorable than others to burn, like oak, beech, hornbeam or ash”, explained Eric Albert. “Above all, the wood must be very dry, with a moisture content of less than 20%, dried for at least one to two years, for example in a barn”, he insisted. In July 2021, the government also launched a “wood plan” to help replace old equipment and thus reduce fine particle emissions by 50% by 2030.

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