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Wood heating is good, even for the economy

The wood-energy industry brings benefits not only to the environment

Exploiting our forests virtuously would have a positive impact not only on the climate but also on local employment. This is demonstrated by a recent study carried out by the Austrian Energy Agency, which, on behalf of the Austrian Fund for Climate and Energy, has compared and quantified the effects of replacing fossil sources with heating using wood or pellets of local origin.



In the Austrian study, an ideal case was envisaged, in which the production chain "from the wood to the fireplace" develops entirely at a local level. From activities such as forest preservation to the transport of timber, its transformation into wood and wood chips until it reaches stoves, fireplaces and boilers, "green" energy creates local employment along its route.

The fossil energy and non-renewable energy chains also create employment. Let's think, for instance, of underground mining, transport to depots and refineries, up to the end consumer. In this case, however, employment is not regional but created along the route between the countries of origin (primarily in Arab countries, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia and Libya) and the final consumer.

Wood biomass, instead, brings economic value and has a positive effect on employment mostly within the borders of the region where green energy is produced and consumed.




The study initially took into account the data of a model region, i.e. Hartberg, a typical area of Styria, in south-east Austria. Currently, 47% of the energy used for heating comes from wood biomass. The study then compared two extreme scenarios, 100% biomass against 100% fossil sources.

In the first case, a suggestion was made to fully replace existing fossil fuel boilers with boilers using wood, wood chips and pellets. The maintenance and operation of new and existing plants feeds the regional economic value by €6.5 million per year, the regional added value therefore corresponds, on average, to €1,215 per plant. If all these boilers were, at least once a year, serviced and supplied with bio-fuel, this would allow the creation of 61 full-time jobs. Specific employment for 1,000 plants, for their maintenance and operation, amounts to a total of 11 full-time jobs. This scenario would lower to €1.6 million the loss of economic value for the model region, considering the maintenance and operation of the plants, and to 1,600 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

The 100% fossil scenario, instead, suggests that the model region should be fully heated with boilers fuelled by oil and gas, in the same proportion used today. In this case, the regional economic value would amount to €1.1 million. If all these boilers were serviced and supplied with fossil fuel at least once a year, only 8.5 full-time jobs would be created. For 1,000 fossil plants, maintenance and operation creates only 1.5 full-time jobs. The 100% fossil scenario would thus create a loss of economic value for the region amounting to €15.1 million and would bring annual CO2 emissions to 58,000 tonnes.

Hence, the overall budget sees the clear victory of biomasses in terms of both CO2 emissions and the creation of economic value and jobs.

Biomass versus Fossil Energy

AIEL - Italian Association of Agroforestry Energy

Valter Francescato AIELValter Francescato is technical director at AIEL, the most important Italian association of the Wood Energy supply chain. It has more than 300 members and is divided into interest groups, that is groups of companies operating in the same specific segment of the supply chain (professional biomass manufacturers, producers and retailers of pellets, biomass electrical appliances, boilers and mini cogeneration applications, biomass systems installers and maintenance technicians).

The association's underlying theme has always been quality, which is essential to strengthen credibility in the sector. This is why the companies which form part of the various groups must have reference certifications: professional manufacturers must follow a program to gain a quality certification to offer chips and firewood that comply with the standard. Pellet producers and retailers must have a certification based on the ENplus scheme and technology manufacturers (stoves and boilers) need to have one based on European reference standards.

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