Equipment performance issues can be potentially significant, as they have been for solar installations2. Many factors can reduce the renewable energy generating capacity that underlies the motivation for many incentive programs. In the case of wood and pellets, the primary issue is that, unlike solar and geothermal, performance requires the operator to consistently load the stove with fuel. This is an even more significant issue with biomass appliances that have to be loaded often. Pellet stoves require more upkeep and downtime related to repairs that can impact short and long-term energy production if not promptly identified and remedied.
Incentive programs can help contribute to the growing base of knowledge about performance issues by conducting long-term performance monitoring and thorough post-installation inspections, identifying specific performance issues that have arisen.
Naturally, biomass appliances are the most cost-effective to use when they are in good working condition. However, there is often lack of awareness of the financial ramifications of potential performance issues, and a lack of the knowledge and means to address these issues. Incentive programs can leverage this fact by helping customers become more educated owners and operators of biomass appliances and more skilled at assessing the performance of their system.
Inspectors and Installers
State and local building codes go a long way towards ensuring that biomass systems function safely and reliably. However, these codes are not always followed or effectively enforced, as building inspectors and installers may lack a solid understanding of standards. Incentive programs can improve the effectiveness of these codes by directly verifying compliance through the programís post-installation inspection process, by requiring a sign-off by the building inspector, by sponsoring training of local installers and building inspectors, and/or by requiring that installers meet minimum hearth training requirements.
Solar legislation enacted in California, requires that all systems funded through the stateís incentive programs are covered by a 10-year warranty against breakage and undue degradation. Providing these types of requirements for biomass systems would protect homeowners from faulty equipment and hold manufactures to a high standard of quality.
Acceptance testing involves spot measurements to verify that the stove or boiler is functioning properly and producing heat at the expected level. Incorporating acceptance tests into the post-installation inspection process would add a small incremental cost relative to the value that such tests can provide by quickly identifying improperly installed systems or defective equipment. Programs that do not conduct post-installation inspections for all projects should consider requiring that installers conduct acceptance tests and submit satisfactory results prior to fully disbursing incentive payments, if applicable.
Finally, given the costs of incentives to taxpayers, ensuring that biomass systems perform well is an important issue in incentive program design. Therefore, programs should evaluate and share information about the effectiveness and costs of alternate approaches in order to provide a solid foundation for program design going forward.