Pellet Stoves and Solar Panels: the Perfect Match?

Pellet stoves are one of the cheapest ways to reduce a home’s carbon footprint. A perfect complement to solar panels, they could be pitched as part of a package for homes.
By John Ackerly | March 05, 2018

Pellet stoves are one of the cheapest ways to reduce a home’s carbon footprint. A perfect complement to solar panels, they could be pitched as part of a package for homes. But states need to start promoting them, as they do solar panels.

Solar panels are the way of the future for millions of U.S. homes. But they aren’t sized to carry the heating load of most houses in the country. A pellet stove can easily provide 50 to 90 percent of the heating needs for millions of American homes with an installed price of $3,000 to $5,000. 

All states that have solar incentive budgets should include incentives for pellet stoves. Many with the highest incentives for solar are ideal for pellet stoves. One of the best arguments to present to states is not just that pellets are an affordable way to reduce fossil fuel use, but that they can also reduce demand for polluting wood stoves. If states had more aggressively steered people to pellet stoves over the past several decades, fewer households would have installed old, second-hand wood stoves that are then removed through expensive stove change-out programs.

When the Alliance for Green Heat pushed for a rebate program in Maryland that favors pellet stoves, we presented data showing the state was funneling tax dollars to the richest households for solar panels, while ignoring middle income households that were in the market for pellet stoves. It wasn’t a fair use of taxpayer dollars. A pellet stove can reduce as much fossil fuel as a typical array of solar panels for about a third of the price.

I heated my 2,000-square-foot home in Maryland with wood stoves for years.  Even with dry wood and a mostly attentive operator, I was frustrated that they periodically smoked too much, especially as I wanted to be a good neighborhood ambassador for the technology. This year, I switched to a pellet stove. Now, I push a button in the morning and the stove runs cleanly all day. Every other day I add another bag of pellets, and once a week, I empty a few cups of super fine ashes from the ash tray. When I’m away, my wife or son easily operates the stove. Wood stoves are great for less populated areas, and will always have a strong following, but pellet stoves deserve incentives, and can bring in millions of new, energy-conscious consumers.

The solution is for states that are pushing renewable energy to be the matchmaker. When a home installs solar panels, encourage the homeowner to add a pellet stove at the same time. Combine the financing. 

The basic, underlying problem is that solar PV has sky-high brand recognition, and powerful advocacy groups behind it. They need it, and deserve it. But we also deserve a place at this table. We will only get it if we demand it, and consistently make the case for pellet stoves.

A key element to incentive programs that always trips up stove industry associations is that states don’t like to give rebates to every model appliance. Incentives are for the cleanest and most efficient appliances, and until industry can embrace that, it will be harder to build cohesive and coherent campaigns to be part of state rebate programs.

There are six barriers in our community, and some are partially self-imposed. All can be overcome through strategic partnerships and messaging.

1. By nature, the industry association representing pellet stoves is all-inclusive of all its members, and doesn’t push pellet stoves over wood stoves, or even over gas stoves.

2. The U.S. EPA regulates for air quality, and doesn’t publicly favor cleaner certified appliances over dirtier certified appliances.

3. The two pellet associations, BTEC and PFI, mainly represent fuel producers, not the stove manufacturers. They have broader goals, and typically don’t push one end use of pellets over another.

4. Some state and regional groups are mostly concerned about using pellets locally, which means focusing on residential, commercial and institutional bulk deliveries. Bagged pellets could come from Canada, or more distant states, and thus represent a threat to the local pellet industry.

5. Programs that push pellet stoves are mostly change outs that require a household to remove an old, uncertified wood stove. This limits the market far too much when states should offer incentives to any home to add a pellet stove.

6. The movement pushing for pellet heater incentives has focused on pellet boilers, resulting in a successful effort to get most northeastern states to subsidize boilers. These are vital programs that we support 100 percent, but they could also include stoves.

These barriers are part of our landscape, but far from insurmountable. A first step would be to gather key stakeholders in our community, and target one or two states. We need good materials, and a concerted effort to meet with key players in a multiyear effort. 

Low oil prices and warm winters are among the biggest barriers to rapid growth of the pellet stove sector. State support only goes so far, but it brings other benefits with it. If pellet stoves are not more widely accepted as a key part of the renewable energy future in the next decade, they may be indefinitely relegated to the part of a bit player. There is not much time to lose.

Author: John Ackerly
President, Alliance for Green Heat
[email protected]