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Growing the Domestic Market

You can’t expect many homeowners or business managers to convert to pellet heating until you get them thinking about it like any other central heating option.


March 27, 2013
By Scott Jamieson

You can’t expect many homeowners or business managers to convert to pellet heating until you get them thinking about it like any other central heating option.

 MES  
   

That was the take-away message of Maine Energy Systems’ Dr. William Strauss at the Canadian Wood Pellet Heat Conference, held in Quebec City Feb. 27-March 1. Hosted by the Wood Pellet Association of Canada and Q-WEB, the three-day event wrapped up with a look at successful case studies. The darling of the crowd was MES.

The progressive renewable heating company out of Bethel, Maine, has invested considerable time and money in creating a viable pellet heating market, and now counts over 650 clients on its regular bulk delivery route. It services both single-family dwellings and commercial/municipal buildings. Dr. Strauss, who is also president of bioenergy consulting company Future Metrics, shared some other key take-aways for creating pellet and appliance market demand:

  • Growing this market is as much about changing mindsets as having the right appliances and delivery systems in place (although they are also key). The company runs both professional print and TV ads regularly to convey that cozy feeling to consumers. See some spots at www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/content/view/4005/57/.
  • As domestic energy suppliers, we’re in the consumer sector, so act like it. Advertise, employ a sales staff, and offer financing that’s hard to resist.
  • Invest in proper pneumatic delivery systems – don’t use a modified or jobber system that will deliver dust. “You have to invest in a proper pneumatic delivery truck with the first client – that’s not an attractive use of capital, but it is essential,” Strauss notes. MES’ two purpose-built trucks (one pictured above) are running full out to manage the company’s clients, and the company is looking at adding a third.
  • New England is a vast potential market, with upwards of 10 million homes off the natural gas grid. Forget being green: this is about consumers saving green by converting from oil, propane or electric. MES markets the economics of bioenergy.
  • Take ownership of the entire value chain if possible, including training your service/install network, to convince homeowners pellets are a safe, reliable, easy option. MES runs workshops monthly and has created a certified network of 600 installers.
  • Pellet durability is key for home/business delivery. Work with pellet manufacturers to get the right pellet. Some form of mandatory quality certification is essential to industry growth.
  • Your heating alternative should be as easy to own and operate as an oil furnace. MES uses Austrian boilers that include thermostat controls, auto-feeding, bulk delivery and storage, clean ash removal just a few times per year (with e-mail reminder), and very low emissions (comparable to modern oil boilers).
  • Much of the talk around bioenergy involves transport fuels and power generation. The reality is that heat is a significant energy use in the northern United States and all of Canada. We need to ensure policy makers get that too.
  • Creating a new market is hard work that takes time and money, but someone has to do it.

Several of the conference speakers and audience members raised concerns regarding ease of appliance use, improper installation, pellet delivery and public knowledge. It seems MES has many of the solutions in action. For more reports from the conference, visit Web Exclusives at www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca.

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