Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pellet Boilers: the Okefen examined

To Welshpool, to take a look at Europe’s most advanced pellet boiler. I am guest of Andy Buroughs and his company Organic Energy. Andy Buroughs has been in the renewables business for 20 years, mostly in solar panels, and has recently got interested in pellet boilers after visiting Austria and tracking down Okefen. He has become the UK agent for Okefen and also for another Austrian company, solar panel maker Gasokol.

Now the Okefen pellet boiler is a very impressive piece of kit. I instinctively feet that a pellet boiler is a sort of upmarket wood stove but I am surprised to see just how upmarket a wood stove can get. This is, as Andy points out, the Mercedes of wood-fuelled boilers. It doesn’t actually burn the wood pellets, it gasifies them and then burns the resulting gas at something like 93% efficiency. As there is as much heat value in a wood pellet as there is in heating oil, by weight, you can see that it is a very efficient method of extracting heat from wood. And, of course, the pellets aren’t shovelled in by hand: they are fed in automatically by an auger or a vacuum tube (you choose). And the grate doesn’t need riddling out every morning – the residue can be cleaned up once every few weeks. Indeed, on a forthcoming model, available sometime in 2007, things should have moved on to such a point that the proud owner of an Okefen pellet boiler can get by with an annual visit from someone who a) delivers a year’s worth of pellets into the hopper b) empties the ash can for the year and c) carries out the annual service.

Wow, that really is hi-tech. Renewables without tears.

However there is a big ask here. The cost of the kit comes to around £12,000. From this you can deduct a £1,500 grant from the Low Carbon Building Programme, but even so, that is a ball-achingly large amount of money for what is, after all is said and done, a boiler. This price would include the pellet hopper arrangement but doesn’t go anywhere downstream from the boiler itself. No hot water tank, no radiators or underfloor heating system.

The Okefen is competing with such kit as oil boilers — cost maybe £2,500 including storage tank— and ground source heat pumps — perhaps £8,000 up to £10,000. OK, you get to burn a green fuel, unlike the alternatives, but even if pellet supply turns out to be as cheap and as plentiful as promised, it is never going to stack up financially. One of the very first things Andy said to me was that the Okefen “was very much an aspirational product.” I didn’t quite understand what he was on about until I got home and processed all the cost information. Now I see what he means. It’s a hell of a big ask.

But I have no doubt that there will be a number of well-heeled selfbuilders who will see the Okefen and fall in love and just have to have it. It’s a bit like that. It may even become the Aga for the Zero Carbon generation.

Although I wouldn’t try cooking on it. But then, I wouldn’t recommend cooking on an Aga either.



Blogger RichB said...

You're clearly not a cook if you don't understand the advantages of cooking in a slow oven, Aga or otherwise.

12:50 pm  
Blogger Mark Brinkley said...

Show me a top restaurant that uses an Aga, or any cast-iron range, and I'll buy you a meal there.

11:43 am  
Blogger johan said...


Back home in Belgium I know of a few very good restaurants that use an Aga to cook on. I give you they are quite small, but nevertheless the food is far better than most places I’ve eaten in the UK.
So when suits you and can I book a table, looking forward to you picking up the bill (the Housebuilder’s Bible turns out an even better investment it already was!).


8:51 pm  
Blogger Mark Brinkley said...

I am actually amazed that there are any Agas in Belgium, let alone that restuarants there use them to cook with. Is it something to do with tenderizing horse meat very slowly?

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Blogger Maia Dobson said...

Our houses uses a pellet boiler it's better than our conventional boiler. Now we don't have eto go to boiler repair contractor once every two months.

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Anonymous Villette said...

Pellet boilers tend to be more durable. We use one in our resthouse.

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Anonymous bathroom fitters Bristol said...

For £10,000-£12,000 cost, I think buying a pellet boiler is still worth the help we can give in saving our planet. In addition, the boiler you bought can last for couple of years.

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Anonymous William Warren said...

Is this some kind of a water heater or something? I wanted to buy one since they say they have a tankless one already and it can pretty help me save if the heater is already built into the shower. No need to heat water over the stove again.

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