Some of my earliest memories revolve around standing in front of the cast iron stove in my living room, or helping my father find the wood to fill it on autumn days. Of course, as much fun as toasting myself in front of a roaring wood fire could be, it did not come anywhere close to heating our whole house for the winter. To do that would have required something a little more advanced, such as a wood pellet boiler. The concept isn’t a new one; more than a million pellet boilers have been installed in nations all across Europe.
Sandri of Greenfield, MA, is providing this kind of clean energy heating in New England. Utilizing a $3.2 million High Performance Building Grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and administered by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the company launched a wood pellet sales and distribution pilot in 2011. It installed wood pellet boilers in six energy efficient residential homes and eight businesses and purchased two trucks to transport the pellets. In practical terms, the grant provided a $10,000 discount on the pellet boiler itself, as well as the added convenience of pellets delivered in bulk straight to the homeowner’s doorstep. Homeowners interested in financing the boiler could also qualify for the Mass Save zero interest HEAT loan to keep out of pocket costs down.
So how do the boilers actually work? The principle is similar to my old wood stove – as it relies on locally sourced wood grown right here in New England – but is more automated, has much cleaner emissions, and doesn’t require hunting around for kindling. In this case, the wood is mostly sawdust, taken from already harvested lumber and capable of burning at 90% efficiency or more. The pellets are fed automatically into the boiler. Ultimately, all the homeowner has to do is set the thermostat and remove a bit of ash from the boiler, usually every other week. The end result is far more impressive than a bit of ash however; one ton of wood pellets is the equivalent of a hundred and twenty gallons of heating oil, for roughly half the price. Sandri’s commitment to providing an alternative to oil based heating shows another glimpse into Massachusetts' bright clean energy future. Anyone interested in Sandri’s work or the boilers themselves can check out the company’s projects here.