Highlights from Saratoga Springs

By Joseph Seymour | April 25, 2012

“Outstanding sessions. Extremely well-organized event,” wrote one attendee. “No better opportunity to have focused time with collaborators working to build the infrastructure for biomass heating,” wrote another. And one of my favorite comments, “Biomass has come a long way in the last 4 conferences...”

These three attendees were among roughly 500 who gathered at the fourth annual Northeast Biomass Heating Expo in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., March 21-23. The success of the three-day heating-centric event speaks to the interest from suppliers, vendors, and customers in the Northeast; attendees arrived from as far as California, 29 other states, three Canadian provinces, and a few European countries. Further, registration increased by 30 percent from 2011’s expo, the vendor floor space was doubled to meet exhibitor request, and over 97 percent surveyed reported they would consider attending or would definitely attend a similar show in 2013.

Numbers are one thing, but content is another. Organizers of the 2012 conference pursued more targeted technical sessions and a different location from the past three shows in Manchester, N.H., and it proved a wise wager. Saratoga Springs offered new opportunities to engage geographically close state partners like the New York Biomass Energy Alliance, Pennsylvania Biomass Energy Association, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, to name a few. From speaker contributions to their presence on the conference program committee, the local delegation brought fresh regional perspectives to the Northeastern view on biomass heating technologies, applications, and fuels.

As is the case at most conferences, some sessions were better attended than others. The two top-rated sessions involved key principles for biomass boiler sizing and financing. These ratings come as no surprise. Vendors and customers alike often have the same top three questions when it comes to getting biomass thermal projects done: how big a system do I really need? How much will it cost? And how am I going to pay for it? Industry stakeholders should take note of these concerns as they extend far beyond New England states.  

Session attendees also came from a wider array of professional backgrounds than in previous years. For the first time, the conference offered professional development hours for New York state engineers, and many attendees took advantage of them. In one session alone, I personally completed certificates of participation for about 30 attendees pursing technical credit. While a majority of those surveyed reported that the New York state credits were not the sole reason they attended, many inquired about the role of additional industry credits for the 2013 show. Facilitating professional development for separate but related industries and trades helps demonstrate that biomass thermal technologies can compete for installation considerations among other commercial heating options.

Finally, the enhanced exhibitor floor and outdoor vendor fair brought the expo’s case studies and seminar topics to life in ways presentations simply could not convey. Component suppliers, boiler and stove vendors, and manufacturers mingled, networked and connected with competitors and customers alike.  Outside, bulk pellet delivery trucks and a slew of commercial and residential heating systems revved up and down, communicating their systems’ efficiency, cleanliness, and convenience. After seeing the pellet delivery trucks, one passerby approached me and asked about the expo’s purpose.

Upon hearing my explanation, she replied, “Well I’m glad we’re manufacturing these things [fuel and equipment] here and not shipping more money overseas.” That comment succinctly captured a goal of the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo: demonstrate and reinforce biomass heating’s viability, right now, right here.

I should have asked for the woman’s email information, so I could tell her we’ll be back. See you in 2013, Saratoga Springs.

Author: Joseph Seymour
Executive Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
(202) 596-3974 ext. 302