The 2014 Winter Fuel Outlook released by the US Energy Information Agency on Oct. 7, predicted that wood and pellet heating would continue the trend of being the nation’s fasting growing heat source. Overall, wood and pellet heating grew 38% from 2004 to 2013, and now accounts for 2.5% of all home primary heating.
The EIA predicts wood and pellet heating will grow again in the 2014/15 winter by 4.7%. Electricity is predicted to grow second fastest at 3.1%. Natural gas is at .07% growth and oil and propane are each predicted to drop by about 3.2%. Regional data shows wood and pellet heating growing more than 7% in the northeast and Midwest, and only 2.5% in the south and 1.8% in the west. It was only two years ago that the EIA started to include wood and pellets in the 2012 Winter Fuel Outlook, even though far more homes have wood and pellet stoves than have oil furnaces.
Nationally, solar and geothermal dominate headlines and media imagery, but wood and pellet heating remain the dominant players in reducing fossil fuel usage at the residential level. In 2014, the EIA says wood and pellet heat will produce .58 quadrillion Btu, or 67% of the nation’s total, while residential solar will produce .25 quadrillion Btu, or 29%. Meanwhile, geothermal produces only .04, or 4%, and is not showing steady increases like solar.
While wood and pellets are the fastest growing heating fuel in America, residential solar is growing even faster in the electricity marketplace. At current rates, residential solar could produce more energy than residential wood and pellet stoves by 2020. Solar has enjoyed generous taxpayer subsidies with a 30% federal tax credit in addition to state incentives. The federal solar credit is set to expire at the end of 2016, but by then the cost of solar panels may have decreased enough for continued growth without federal subsidies.
Wood and pellet heating and solar are not competing technologies in that one produces electricity and the other heat. They are often combined to make a home virtually carbon neutral, a process which is moving far faster in Europe than in the US due to higher fossil fuel prices and favorable government policies.
In Europe, many countries are aggressively incentivizing higher efficiency pellet stoves and pellet boilers. In the US, the Bush and Obama Administrations did not push for incentives for cleaner and more efficient pellet equipment but rather has let Congress and industry shape a tax credit without any effective efficiency or emission criteria. As a result, the 38% growth of wood and pellet heating since 2004 documented by the EIA is not predominantly an expansion of cleaner and more efficient equipment, as it is in Europe. Sales of cleaner pellet stoves are rising in the US, but the growth of wood heating in America includes some very polluting equipment such as outdoor wood boilers, also knows as outdoor hydronic heaters and new unregulated wood stoves, neither of which have emissions standards. After many years of delays, the EPA is finally regulating these technologies and requiring them to meet emission standards by summer of 2015.
Without effective federal regulations from the EPA, some states have been guiding the market toward cleaner and more efficient wood and pellet heating equipment, with Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon and Washington taking the lead.