Regardless of whether the heating system uses gas, oil or wood – it is clear that both companies and private individuals are facing some very costly challenges to ensure that they are not left out in the cold during the winter. Industry is also one of the many energy consumers seeking to maintain production and supply chains and prevent further price increases in the retail sector. For some time now, specific demands for savings measures have been expressed because of concerns about the impending cold weather in winter and that the shortage of gas will drive up inflation. Even seasonal closures, e.g. in the public sector, are being suggested as an option in order to minimise gas consumption as much as possible in the course of daily business. However, temporary closures, as have already been the case at universities and museums in the past, are not an option for private households. They have to continue to grapple with the high costs. This then gives rise to questions about how people heat their homes in other locations, and what alternatives exist for doing this.
The situation in Germany is becoming critical. About half of all households in the country used gas as their source of heating in 2021 and they have therefore been hit by the price increases caused by the shortage of gas. Oil heating systems provided warmth for about 24 per cent of households and another 14 per cent obtained community heating from power stations, but they are also at the mercy of the rising prices. Only few people have been able to afford electric heating systems, which are, on average, more expensive, or alternative types of heating such as heat pumps1. Overall, the crisis, which has been looming since the beginning of the year, is therefore affecting a large number of people, who are now looking for heating source alternatives to expensive gas.
There is one obvious solution for many people: good old wood. It works without any gas or electricity, grows back and provides cosy heat for cold homes. However, not even this is proving to be as simple as it looks, as Christoph Reimann, the authorised signatory at the wood logistics firm, Bruno Reimann, explains, because many other people have already hit on this idea too. 1.1 million households in Germany already use wood as their primary source of energy, while another 11.2 million have some kind of stove in order to obtain warmth in their homes alongside other types of heating. But anybody who has tried to obtain wood for their cosy little fire this year knows that the rising energy costs have had an impact on the demand for wood as a source of energy too – and this has also affected the prices. The Holz-Reimann wood company is well aware of the trend within the sector. It handles all the stages that wood undergoes from the harvesting process to the logistics and even the wood retail sector. The range of products consisting of firewood, wood pellets, briquettes and wood chips is attracting private and industrial customers and the company has now made a name for itself as a quality supplier.
Customers are paying up to double the price for their firewood this year in comparison with the previous year,’ Christoph Reimann explains (status as of October 2022). Many of them are ordering large quantities and there are long waiting lists that they have to join in order to obtain this heating material at all. But is this enormous struggle to obtain wood justified? Reimann is certain of one thing. ‘In our view, the increase in demand is primarily motivated by a sense of panic.’
Customers’ estimates of how much firewood they need are often very high and this includes those customers who have never yet lit their stove or have rarely done so. ‘People are now ordering as much wood as would normally be enough to heat their homes for two full years,’ Reimann says, describing the buying behaviour. While almost all the traders have run out of wood at some stage, the Holz-Reimann wood company has continued to supply more and more orders from its online shop. To ensure that they can supply regular customers, they have had to cap the amounts that many new customers can order.
However, the Holz-Reimann wood company has been affected by the impact of the energy crisis and the supply chain problems too. ‘The increase in business may have been lucrative for the wood logistics specialist, but it has created a significant increase in our work,’ he adds. After all, companies have to somehow meet the demand for firewood, which has increased by between 20 and 25 per cent, and for the trade in pellets, which was already booming in the summer. A considerable amount of wood which was previously imported from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is now no longer available – and it accounted for about 24 per cent of the total figure of 1.24 million cubic metres of coniferous wood that was imported in 20212. The Holz-Reimann wood company, however, has not been affected by this, as it only purchases wood from the local region. ‘German supplies now have to cope with the demand, which has increased even further, and this has triggered an even greater struggle to obtain the wood that is available within the sector.’
Increasing production by optimising the wood drying process enables the Reimann wood company to make large quantities available to its customers, despite the problems. It has been possible to guarantee its increased deliveries by employing new workers through its own jobs portal. ‘The Holz-Reimann wood company’s ability to supply wood so reliably is due to the fact that it is involved in the entire value-added chain; we can act in the market, instead of just reacting because we have such a broad business base. If we obtain fewer goods from a pellets factory, we can quickly adapt in logistical terms, make use of quantities from other plants and build on our unique selling point – which is our own enormous warehouse,’ Reimann explains. ‘In the end, this provides benefits for our business operations and for our customers.’
Despite all the work, Reimann attaches importance to continuing to set fair prices for its wood. ‘We’ve deliberately decided to restrict our prices somewhat, contrary to the tendencies of some rivals, which are exploiting the situation to get rich quickly and are demanding prices that are up to four times higher. Customers notice that – and we want them to be satisfied with our quality wood and our services in future too,’ Christoph Reimann emphasises. This is plausible, as the Holz-Reimann wood company offers wood heating products which provide a much higher thermal yield than the other products on the market since they contain very few impurities and have been dried more thoroughly.
Overall, there is no doubt whatsoever that spending a cosy winter’s evening around a wood-burning stove will be a much more expensive business this year. ‘Despite this, it’s still worth using wood as a source of heat,’ says Christoph Reimann, offering his advice. ‘In the end, we’re talking about a raw material that’s regionally available in Germany and that grows back – thanks to its intense vegetation levels involving 11.4 million hectares of forests, Germany even has more wood available than Sweden, for example.’
However, Reimann lists some other benefits as well: by purchasing wood, people are supporting regional jobs and companies. On the one hand, they’re then not so dependent on imports from crisis regions while, on the other hand, sustainability levels are far higher because of the much shorter supply chain compared to oil from the Middle East, for example. Then there are the positive properties of wood, such as its CO2 balance sheet. Regardless of which type of heating is used, one kilogram of wood corresponds to about five kilowatt hours. It is true that CO2 is given off when the wood is burnt, but this is always exactly the amount that the wood absorbed when it was growing. As a CO2-neutral source of energy, wood therefore accounts for 65 per cent of the biomass from which renewable energy is obtained. This is used to both make heat available and generate electricity. As the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture states, it was possible to save approx. 32 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020 by using wood as a climate-neutral alternative to fossil energy.3
It is therefore clear that wood is an alternative that needs to be taken seriously. This only raises the question of which type of heating is most suitable. Reimann believes that the type of usage always depends on the need in each case and on the size of the buildings that need to be heated.
In addition to using firewood to obtain cosy warmth in a living room from a wood-burning stove, he recommends that private households should switch to pellet heating systems. ‘Wood pellets are readily available all year round and the heating systems are extremely efficient,’ Reimann explains. ‘The average annual requirements within our Antistaub-Holzpellets® (anti-dust wood pellets) network amount to 5.11 tonnes. Larger buildings, on the other hand, should rely on wood chip heating systems. Wood chips are particularly suitable for heating schools and churches, as well as industrial complexes.’ Even if the investment in the wood-burning heating units is often expensive, Reimann believes that the switch from gas or oil is worthwhile. ‘Even if the prices are high at the moment, wood as a raw material is still cheaper at 10 cents a kilowatt hour. Just compare that with your electricity or gas price.’
But people should bear in mind that they continue to depend on electricity. ‘Even if I have wood pellets in my bunker – if I don’t have any electricity, the heating system won’t work,’ he points out. It is always beneficial if adequate supplies of firewood are available for a wood-burning stove, which can then be lit in addition to the gas, oil or pellet heating system or the heat pump. In particular, customers who are connected to the gas mains and do not have the possibility of storing gas themselves are able to gain some sense of security through this.
The high level of demand for wood is definitely fully justified. Heating with wood is not only environmentally friendly and guarantees a warm home in times of geopolitical unrest and a shortage of resources, but pellet heating systems also offer a real alternative to heating with fossil sources of energy for cost reasons in the long term. A wood-burning stove is also a stylish decorative item in a home and operates despite any shortage of electricity and gas. However, nobody needs to panic and immediately order four years’ worth of firewood. ‘The price of gas is going down again, so let’s see how much panic will be left over in the end,’ Reimann suggests, looking to the future. It is naturally a good thing that the piles of wood in stock have such excellent storage properties.
1 | https://de.statista.com/infografik/27327/anteil-der-energietraeger-beim-heizen-des-wohnungsbestandes-in-deutschland/ in line with https://www.bdew.de/media/documents/Beheizungsstruktur_Wohnungsbestand_Entw_ab_1995_online_o_jaehrlich_CMi_2801202_udEP16f.pdf
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