Development of a market strategy for domestic fuelwood in ireland

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Number of Units

Wood consumption m3

Open chimney



Closed Chimney



Chimney Stove



Stove, single



Stove, ceramic






Cooker/central heating



Central heating with logs <70KW



Central heating with logs >70KW



Central heating, combined log & oil



Automatic central heating <70KW



Automatic central heating, >70KW Wood processing industries



Automatic central heating >70KW Others



Incinerators for wood waste



Incinerators for household waste



3.2.6 Other European countries
The history and structure of the fuelwood market in mainland Europe is very like the Swiss fuelwood market. Woodland has traditionally been owned in some form of commonage or shared ownership and the rights to the "fruits of the forest" were encoded in local laws. Fuelwood was, traditionally, offered for sale cut into faggots about 1.0 m in length and were sold by the cubic metre of stacked and split timber. The wood was usually dried for one or two years in the forest before being sold. Many traditional housing structures included some shelter to ensure that fuelwood was kept dry, well aired and convenient.
The choice of species considered best varied with the region and seems to have reflected the most abundant resource locally. In parts of NE Spain holm oak was and still is a significant fuelwood (Mayer & Roda 1993). Oak and, especially, beech have been important over much of central France and in Germany. The conifers become dominant in the Alps and, along with birch, in Scandinavia.
The form of cooking and heating appliances vary with the regions. However, there appears to be a trend from slow burning stoves with a very high heat inertia in regions with prolonged or severe winters, to the so called "pot bellied stoves" that give quick and readily available heat, in warmer regions. Around 60,000 heating appliances are sold annually in Europe and the two largest markets are Germany and France (Anon. 1995b).
Most of the firewood that is produced in central Europe comes from sustainable managed woodlands or forests and is sold through a mature supply chain that produces a consistent and reliable product. However, it is likely that a significant proportion of the processing of firewood in all European countries is carried out on the "Black market".
It is important to note that in most European countries increases in wood fuel to meet higher targets in renewable energy production programme focus on the promotion of wood chips (Pouet & Laurier 1995, Varley 1995, Serup 1999).
3.3 Estimate of market size and structure in Switzerland
The production of woodfuel in the 1980s was around 10000 TJ per year and increased sharply around 1990 and is now just under 20000 TJ per year, but this represents only 2.2% of the Swiss energy consumption. This represents just 10% of the energy produced by hydroelectric power and half of that obtained from house and industrial waste.
In 1997 2 million m3 of woodfuel were exploited and it is estimated that twice that amount is readily available. Theoretically it is thought that between 5.5 and 7 million m3 should be available for harvesting every year (Streiff & Brondli 1991). The major reason for this glut of firewood has been un-competitive prices. The price of firewood has remained steady (just over SF60 m3) since 1985 (Anon. 1998a). Over the past few years there has been much political debate to tax non-renewable sources of energy in order to promote renewable ones including woodfuel.

In 1997 2.3 million m3 of woodfuel was consumed in Switzerland. Three main types of wood fuel installations are recognised and in decreasing order of importance they are (% of total consumption in brackets)

- Individual burners using logs with an output of less than 70 kW (53%)

- Automatic central heating systems using wood chips with output > 70 kW (34%)

- Specialised burners to dispose of waste wood products (13%)

During the 1990s the consumption of wood for individual installations has remained steady whereas that of wood chip burners has steadily increased (Anon. 1998a,c).
It is generally acknowledged that from a purely economic viewpoint woodfuel is at a disadvantage compared to other sources of fuel. However, for public buildings, particularly in villages where a large supply of wood exists, it has the advantage of creating jobs and boosting the local economy. The points in favour of woodfuel are thought to be:

- renewable energy source,

- efficient and environmentally friendly,

- wood production is localised and thus reduces transport
Of prime importance is that the full potential of wood fuel can only be realised if an efficient organisation is set up. A good understanding of wood heating systems is also required.
As mentioned above there is a great potential to increase the consumption of woodfuel. However, an increase in the consumption of firewood is widely viewed as impossible and indeed a decrease would be more likely. The interest in burning wood chip started in the early 1980s as an alternative to firewood. The consumption of wood chip has steadily increased during the 1990s and this is considered to be the only feasible way to use the full potential available.
All interviewed individuals pointed out that figures provided by the National Office for Statistics are very good and reliable. However it was also pointed out that although the total amount of woodfuel was correctly estimated the number of people actually cutting small amounts of firewood was difficult to estimate.
Production of firewood is very common as a Saturday activity and is carried out by people who cut wood for their own consumption and also by some who sell it to family, friends and neighbours. This supplements income for 'poorly paid' workers and is not declared. Farmers, even if they do own forests, generally do not produce firewood as this is not deemed to be financially rewarding. However farming is changing rapidly and it appears that poorer farmers, badly hit by reduction in farming subsidies, are now starting to sell firewood. As they have few overheads and their wood is sold on the black market their prices are highly competitive.
Foresters consider firewood as a by-product of harvesting which one needs to get rid of. Wood deemed to be firewood, and this usually represents 50% of the broadleaf's felled, is then processed by a wide variety of individuals and the market is very unorganised. The producer sells straight to customers and there is no marketing at all, although in some areas there are wholesalers. Sawmills do not produce firewood and burn their resides for heat.
Sale of firewood in the public forest is generally organised as follows. All cut trees are cut into 1m length and stacked along forest tracks. Commune or state sell the firewood themselves and it is generally sold locally to their own citizens. Private owners tend to keep the firewood for themselves. Small companies, which carry out tree felling and silvicultural operations, do not make money out of firewood and only prepare wood when requested. They insist on the wood being picked-up in the forest as delivering is not a viable operation. Consumers buy wood cut either in logs of 50, 33 or 25cm, but for the greater majority the length is 33cm. All producers cut the wood to exactly the same sizes and sell it by cubic metres.
Beech is the main wood and is the reference, but small quantities of ash are often mixed in. Oak is cheaper but people don't particularly like it as it needs to dry longer (3 years). Where broadleaf's are uncommon, such as in the Alps, conifers may become the main firewood. Wood calorific value is based on that of beech, which equals 100. Hornbeam is rated 110, ash, oak, robinia and sycamore are between 90 and 100, birch 85-90 while spruce and fir are around 60%. In some areas both birch and larch are considered as excellent firewood.
There is no problem with quality control, beech is dried for two years and customers rapidly spot wood that has not been seasoned properly. A large consumer will require 30-40 m3 per annum when heating a house solely with wood. In the countryside many farmhouses are solely heated with wood. The usual customer will require 1-2 m3 of wood per year for fireplaces and this is only for pleasure.
Three fundamental problems in the market chain have been identified. Firstly and most importantly transport is expensive, especially because of high wages and high road tax. As a result deliveries tend to be local and usually the producer or wholesaler prefers to see the wood being collected. In the case of the few large wholesalers their transport costs are further increased due to the 28 tons limit imposed on lorries in Switzerland. It appears that their businesses only remain viable if they consistently break this regulation. Storage is another difficulty as the wood requires to be protected from the elements prior to delivery. Both the high price of land and exorbitant building prices as well as planning regulations would prevent the setting up of a new business. A more recent trend has been the increased competition by supermarkets that manage to buy large quantities, often foreign imports, at a price that is below production costs.
It is worth pointing out that forestry, and the production/supply/use of firewood in particular, has, like most things in Switzerland, been rather stable since the 1950s. Now the country is being confronted with major changes (unemployment, globalisation, exceptionally damaging storms in 1990 and 1999, etc...) and many crucial decisions need to be made, including the sort of relationship Switzerland will have with the EU. In this context most forestry experts, and indeed the public, foresee major difficulties ahead (e.g. Rime 1997) although no one appears to have much of clue as to what will happen and what sort of changes will really be required.

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