This year’s edition of the annual World Sustainable Energy Days (WSED) in Wels, Austria was a well orchestrated affair. And, as it has come to be expected the organisers OÖ Energiesparverband et al have again demonstrated a keen ear to what makes for an interesting conference. Or in the words of Stefan Ortner, CEO for Ökofen “it is time to make pellets great again”.
Whilst well orchestrated, WSED feels by no means routine. An achievement in itself given that the event has been run annually since 2001 at the same venue with more or less the same conference setup, interactive intermissions, trade show co-location and so forth.
This year was, presumably, a particular challenge to the organisers given that the triennial Central European Biomass Conference (CEBC) took place in Graz, Austria mid-January, which by all accounts was also a good conference.
As seasoned WSED participants, identifiable by smiley’s on their badges, know WSED is about nuances; what’s new and what’s renewed. Renewed were topics such as 2016 pellet production and consumption stats from a number of countries that, when presented in Graz by the same speakers, were preliminary. Austria, Germany and Canada for example were updated and confirmed at Wels.
New talking points included Japan’s biomass imports as trading houses ramp up efforts to secure woodchip, palm kernel shell (PKS) and pellet supplies as power plant project planners rally to beat the 2020 deadline after which the feed-in tariff (FIT) price is to be lowered. In the UK, clarity regarding the second round for the renewable heat incentive (RHI II) was discussed and its implications for boiler sales, installations and pellet demand going forward.
In parallel, recent word on Rentech’s idling of its Wawa pellet plant in Ontario, Canada, Drax’s bid to secure both of the German Pellet plants, Woodville and Urania in the US and the fire incident at Port of Port Arthur, Texas (incidentally whilst shiploading German Pellet pellets) all provided plenty of content for coffee time conjecture.
As did the subject of “black pellets” both on the podium an “off the record”. On the podium, results from pilot projects using straw in Latin America and bark in northern Europe were revealed. Off the record – well that would be telling. Suffice to say that players and state of play has, for the undersigned, become clearer.
On the biomass boiler technology front, yet again Austrian manufacturers manage to pull rabbits out of a hat. Manufacturers like Ökofen, Fröling, Herz, Windhager and Hargassner to mention a few have between them an array of nano- and micro CHP boilers, dual-fuel and gasification CHPs for residential and light commercial/agricultural applications out on the market as could be seen at the Energiesparmesse.
Full integration with the consumer Internet of Things (IoT) and, in some cases, compatible with existing solar thermal and/or photovoltaic (PV) solutions that a consumer may have already invested in or plans to.
This future proofing flexibility of being able to upgrade say a pellet boiler to a CHP at time that suits the consumer is perhaps the most significant news. For a cash-strapped homeowner such as the undersigned looking to overhaul an archaic (biomass) heating system and relay the roof, it is news well received.