Maine company getting pellet heat right
March 1, 2013, Quebec - You can't expect many homeowners to convert to pellet heating until you get them thinking about it like any other central heating option.
That was the take-away message of Maine Energy Systems' Dr. William Strauss at the Canadian Wood Pellet Heat Conference, which wrapped up today with a look at successful case studies. 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. Dr. Strauss, who is also president of bioenergy consulting company Future Metrics, shared some other key take-aways:
- 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 here.
- We're in the consumer business, so act like it. Advertise, employ a sales staff, 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." MES' two purpose-built trucks are running full out to manage the company's 600+ clients.
- 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. MES markets the economics.
- Take ownership of the entire value chain if possible, including training your service/install network, to convince homeowners pellets are a safe, reliable option. MES runs workshops monthly and has created a certified network of 600 installers.
- 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 email 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 US and all of Canada. We need to ensure policy makers get that too.
Several of the mornings' speakers and audience members raised concerns regarding ease of use, improper installation, and public knowledge. It seems MES has many of the solutions in action.