What is happening to firewood prices and what is the likely trend over the next few years?
For some, firewood can be a free commodity, collecting windfall from the roadside or wood from the garden or smallholding when a tree falls or needs pruning, but for most firewood needs to be bought.
It doesn't seem that long ago that one could buy a 'load of logs' for £50-£60, perhaps some still can, but for most these days are long gone. So, what's happened, why have prices for raw material doubled in price over the last five years and actually risen by 15% in the last 12 months? In some cases, prices have risen to over £65 per tonne delivered as cordwood. (circa 2m lengths of round timber)
Quite simply its demand. Not only has demand for firewood risen as more people install wood burning stoves, but also more and more people seem to be returning to the wonders of a real log fire and modern day stoves are incredibly efficient making it easy to reduce home heating costs.
There is also significant demand for timber (normally softwood) to be made into woodchip and wood pellets. This fuel is more often used in wood fuel boilers for whole heating systems in larger houses, or for much larger commercial ventures such as schools and hospitals and increasingly so in agriculture where poultry farmers are moving away from gas and heating the chicken houses using biomass boilers. You may, or may not know that Heathrow Terminal 2 has supposedly the largest biomass boiler in the UK using woodchip from within a 100 mile radius.
The government with its obligations for CO2 reductions is providing incentives for people to produce heat from renewable energy and this scheme is called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This appears to be working well, judging by the number of new biomass boiler installations. However, all this is inevitably increasing the cost of raw material.
Whilst this is not good news for the consumer as prices rise, spare a thought for the bigger picture of sustainable fuel. Prices of wood five years ago was desperately low and not even high enough to cover the cost of harvest, but now prices are enabling a small return for landowners and foresters who have grown the trees for over 50 years or more. With prices so poor, woodland has not been managed properly and in a Government report in 2006 entitled A Woodfuel Strategy for England it was found that over 50% of woodland was not being managed and the target was set to get a further 2 million tonnes per year available for the wood fuel market by 2020. Better prices will now encourage more thinning of woodland and hopefully more planting.
There needs to be a balance between a fair price for the grower enabling good woodland management, and a cost of fuel to the consumer that is affordable. The correct balance will enable a long term truly renewable source of wood fuel from an everlasting sustainable supply and in doing so the nations CO2 emissions will be greatly reduced and we will all be able to enjoy the wonders of a real log fire for generations to come.