What is it about Ireland and wood energy? Not one political party has championed this renewable energy resource. Yet countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Austria, which are well under way in achieving renewable energy targets, regard wood biomass as an essential part of their bioeconomy and climate policies.

Austria, which has a wide range of renewable energy options over other EU countries,places a high value on wood energy. Hans Kordik summed up the Austrian position: “While Austria’s renewable energy mix is made up of hydro power, solar thermal energy, photovoltaic, geothermal and wind energy, more than 50% of the [country’s] renewable energy mix comes from biomass.”


When discussing wood biomass, it is easy to fall for the myth that burning wood has a negative impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Kordic, a senior agricultural consultant with the World Bank, dismisses this because “as long as the forest acreage stays the same or – as in the case in Austria – even grows, biomass is carbon-neutral”. Denmark, where the renewable energy is divided almost equally between wind and biomass, adopts the same position. In Sweden, wood biomass provides approximately 60% of the fuel for district heating and municipal waste about another 15%.

Yet, Ireland has, at best, an ambivalent approach to wood energy policy even though our forests yield three times the volumes/ha over Scandinavian forests. So, while the main use of timber is for construction, furniture, fencing, panel board, packaging, etc, wood energy should be an inherent part of the renewable product mix. Despite recent poor afforestation rates, the Irish forest area increases at a far higher rate than other EU countries while timber production is forecast to double over the next 15 years.

When the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) was launched in 2019, the energy sector believed that Ireland would begin to catch up with Austria. Denmark, Sweden and other EU countries. “The introduction of the SSRH is a game changer as Ireland now urgently needs to address its declared climate emergency,” said the then Irish BioEnergy Association (IrBEA) president Des O’Toole.

Gerry McMorrow points to one of the Heizomat 200kw which dries wood chips down to 13% moisture content.

While there was a modest uptake of the SSRH, it is now virtually nonexistent despite major savings for businesses that convert to wood. The recent field day hosted by McMorrow Haulage & Firewood, Co Leitrim – outside Dowra – in association with the IrBEA discussed a number of major challenges facing wood energy in Ireland. These include SSRH and the IrBEA’s Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme which ensures that wood fuel including firewood is of consistent quality and sourced from sustainably managed forests.

“We started timber haulage in 1993 and we grew to harvesting in 2002,” said Gerry McMorrow. “Two years ago we obtained funding from Leader [Leitrim Development Company] and we bought a wood chipper. To support the chipper we constructed new drying facilities.”

Investment included the purchase of two Heizomat 200kW boilers. These reduce the moisture content from 60% plus to as low as 13% which is required for medium renewable heat businesses that convert from oil or natural gas to wood. This is the market McMorrow is aiming for although he also supplies air-dried wood chips for larger outlets such as Edenderry Power, which is a current customer.

Now employing 42, his haulage business which supplies timber to sawmills mainly in the west of Ireland is thriving while his wood chip market in Edenderry is a stop-gap measure. He also has a lucrative firewood market, which supplies over 2,000m3 of spruce, pine and larch firewood as well as hardwoods, mainly to counties Leitrim, Cavan and Sligo.

McMorrow is a strong proponent of quality dried firewood which is the hallmark of his “Cosylogs” brand. He is a member of the WFQA scheme as he believes this approach is the reliable and sustainable way for consumers to purchase quality wood fuels.

However, like others at the field day, he is extremely disappointed about the lack of uptake of the SSRH. The field day discussed issues such as promoting the scheme and convincing businesses about the environmental and cost saving merits of renewable wood energy.

Gerry McMorrow has the capacity to supply 100,000m3 of wood chips in the medium term. He could double this by further investment in drying facilities and a new wood chipper.

About 35km south of Dowra, McCauley Wood Fuels in Mohill is currently supplying 12,000m3 of wood chips to businesses in Leitrim and neighbouring counties. Kenny McCauley says he could increase capacity to 50,000m3 in the medium term.

Licence issue

So continuity of supply is not an issue at the moment, although both McMorrow and McCauley say the felling licence issue needs to be resolved to create confidence in long-term wood chip supply.

At a capacity of 150,000m3, both McMcMorrows and McCauleys could provide continuity of wood chip supply to over 400 businesses each with an average annual heat requirement of 1,100MWh. This would displace 56 million litres of oil per annum as well as creating further employment.

Given cost saving and major climate change benefits, why has the SSRH stalled? The general consensus is the scheme application is overly onerous in what is an otherwise excellent initiative. This needs to be addressed as well as changing the public negativity about burning wood fuel. This is a challenge the IrBEA is meeting in promoting the SSRH and WQFA schemes.

For further information, check out the WFQA scheme at www.irbea.org or the SSRH scheme at www.seai.ie.

Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH)

The SSRH pays out on a reduced tiered rate per kilowatt hour (kWh) of heat produced per year, beginning at 5.66c for the first 300,000kWh; 3.02c for next 700,000kWh; and 0.50c for the next 1.1m kWh and so on until the scheme duration is complete at 15 years. Unlike the self-perpetuating Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which imploded in the “cash for ash scandal”, the SSRH has strict conditions to ensure the State is protected and energy users are grant-aided for legitimate energy generation.

This Government scheme operated by SEAI aims to “bridge the gap between the installation and operating costs of renewable heating systems” and to “ “incentivise the development and supply of renewable heat”. The scheme provides an installation grant for heat pumps and “ongoing operational support” for commercial, industrial, agricultural, district heating, public sector and other non-domestic heat users.

The savings in converting to wood are considerable. For example, annual savings are estimated at €52,347 by converting from kerosene to wood chips (Table 1) or €44,013 by converting to wood pellets, using a biomass boiler with an annual requirement of 1,100MWh. Annual savings of €31,963 can be achieved by converting from natural gas to wood chips or €23,629 if wood pellets are used. Payback time on capital can be between 3.8 and 7.6 years depending on fuel source.