20 October 2021

A new, eco-affirmative wood heating plan!

According to France’s Ecological Transition ministry, domestic wood-fired heating is the country’s biggest remaining source of fine particle emissions. The Flamme Verte (‘green flame’) accreditation label introduced in 2000 has already put a lot of work into getting professionals and users alike to decrease the level of carbon monoxide and fine particles released by their heating appliances. Their next challenge is to take this a stage further by working with the government’s new plan, launched this summer. Here’s our review with Flamme Verte manager Axel Richard. 

What do you think of this new plan? Is it realistic? Can the objectives be met?

Our organization, Flamme Verte, was consulted during the preparation of this plan and is committed to making it work. Some regions or districts are faced with a two-pronged issue, on one side climate change, linked to greenhouse gas emissions, and on the other the effect on public health of air quality, especially airborne fine particles.  Wood heating overlaps both issues: wood is strategic to the ecological transition with its limiting of greenhouse gases, but inefficient combustion can release fine particles, creating a public health hazard. This ambiguity can be seen in the observation that a very large number of French homes—some 7 million—have wood-fired heating systems, so all is fine on the renewables front, but much of their heating equipment fails to meet clean air standards. Therefore wood heating needs further expansion to address the climate issue, but not at the cost of releasing fine particles that run counter to public health concerns. Good progress has been made in replacing substandard appliances and in improving fuel quality. The objectives are achievable and realistic, but they rely greatly on the implementation of regulatory measures. So-called ‘PPA’ (atmospheric protection plan) zones are, in the scope of their PPA, called on to halve their heating-related emissions. Local authorities in these places can issue orders and make by-laws to cater for pollution spikes, for example a temporary ban on the use of uncertified appliances. And they have measurable objectives they must achieve. 

In your eyes, what is the most important part of the plan?

The “public aid” part. That’s what will provide the greatest incentive, promising real impact. It intends to make the ten existing ‘air-wood funds’ a perpetual feature. These are funds that municipalities can draw on to subsidize the replacement of old heating appliances or open fires, complementing the existing MaPrimeRenov (‘my renovation bonus’) grant. Averaging €1,000 per appliance, these subsidies are funded in equal parts by ADEME (government energy-ecology agency) and the local authority. To receive them, all the end-user need do is provide proof the appliance has been renewed. Aids like these work really well. Vallée de l’Arve, in the Alpine foothills, prototyped a similar scheme and saw a drop of 18% in fine particle emissions between 2013 and 2016 thanks to these aids in combination with certain other actions.

So what about wood fuel? What measures are planned on that front?

Fuel quality is a core factor in fine particle emissions. No matter how high a performance level manufacturers achieve with their appliances, if the wood is damp, pollution and inefficient heating will follow. As 95% of woodchips are certified, variable fuel quality is essentially the domain of logs, which represent 80% of total heating appliance fuel. A good appliance burning clean fuel can divide fine particle emissions by 30, but logs are a major stumbling block. The market for logs is very unstructured. Many users gather wood for their own use or to sell to others; it’s a common practice in rural areas, with logs often stored in the open, on the ground, encouraging damp. Users need to be made aware of wood quality issues and be urged to choose properly dried wood and privilege professional suppliers. 
Regulations can make a difference, too. Much thought is going into existing labels, which could prove a good lever.

Flamme verte œuvre depuis des années pour rendre plus performants les appareils de chauffage bois. Vos actions ont-elles portées leurs fruits ? Quel sera votre rôle dans la mise en œuvre de ce plan ?

Our report card is positive. Over the last 15 years, appliances have seen an average 25% progression in their heat output, while carbon monoxide emissions have been slashed by 80% or more since 2010. The Flamme Verte label has a lot to do with those results by urging manufacturers to improve their products and buyers to make responsible, ecological choices. It has helped make up for the near-total absence of regulations in France. It is set to become a model for the rest of Europe. From January, 2022, European regulations on eco-design will be based on levels equivalent to those of Flamme Verte and apply EU-wide.  
In the scope of the new plan, we are being asked to take matters further. There’s a lot of thought going on inside the label. You can expect to hear announcements by the year end and there’s every chance they will be ready for BePositive in December. 



Plan objectives :

  • Replace 600,000 inefficient appliances by 2025
  • Install 100,000 high-performance wood- or woodchip-fired stoves per year
  • Install 20,000 built-in fires in homes per year 
  • Decrease yearly emissions from wood-fired heating by 12% compared with 2020 


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