For more than a year, you’ve had the chance to get to know better the certification scheme through the words of partners such as the conformity assessment bodies and the certified companies. Nonetheless, the time has come to introduce you to some of the most important actors involved in the ENplus® management – the national licensers and promoting associations that are the main reason for the scheme’s success in 14 national markets. Our guest today is the passionate market expert - Matteo Favero from AIEL (Associazione Italiana Energie Agroforestali), ENplus® National Licenser for Italy.
Dear Matteo, you are a representative of AIEL but also the vice-president of the European Pellet Council. What should people know about these organisations?
The European Pellet Council (EPC) represents the interests of the European wood pellet sector, providing a discussion platform for topics like standardisation and certification of pellet quality, security of supplies and education and training. EPC is an umbrella organization founded in 2010, whose members are pellet-related national associations.
Noteworthy, many EPC members are also ENplus® national licensers or ENplus® national promoting associations – in brief, ENplus® national representatives. ENplus® is therefore managed within a framework that collects the best insights directly coming from the pellet sector. Often, national representatives develop a genuine friendship, that is of great relevance in mutual negotiation and confrontation.
AIEL is the Italian association representing companies operating along the wood-energy supply chain: from producers of wood biofuels (firewood, wood chips and pellets) through producers of technologies for the production of heat and energy (stoves, fireplace inserts, boilers, cogeneration units), to the installers and maintenance technicians of equipment and systems.
In addition to the other clusters (domestic heating; biomass boilers; small CHP plants; installers; wood biomass producers), AIEL welcomes pellet professionals – also foreign ones – in a specific working group including more than 70 companies, to which a number of services and advantages are offered, including specific information and market intelligence.
AIEL has been an EPC member from the very beginning, and for a long time has been participating in the EPC Board of Directors. Recently, I succeeded Annalisa Paniz in the vice-presidency. Beyond any claim, what really counts is being actively involved, and trying to guide our common activities. Indeed, I think that the open dialogue with our members is the reason why we’ve been constantly capable to supporting the scheme development, both at national and international level.
When was ENplus® introduced to the Italian pellet market and how did the certification change it over the years?
AIEL and the Italian market were a pioneer in the path towards the certification of pellet quality. In fact, in 2005 we established a forerunner certification scheme for pellet quality, named “Pellet Gold”. Five years later, ENplus® was launched and the Italian experience merged with the international one. Not long ago, the scheme celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The original purpose of both of Pellet Gold and ENplus® was to achieve a supply of pellets of consistent, high quality. The latest figures show how successful the initiative has been through the years – and it still is!
Since it was first established, ENplus® has already experienced two main revisions, in order to keep guaranteeing quality from production to delivery, adapting to the technological developments and market conditions, as well as users’ expectations. The third major revision is expected to be finalised soon. Proudly, AIEL has actively participated in the revision process, and we can’t wait for the release of the new standards and the introduction of new, ambitious requirements.
Meanwhile, three different market surveillance projects have been carried out in Italy, i.e. the largest importer and consumer market of bagged pellets in Europe, with a particular number of ENplus® bags being randomly taken from the market and analysed, in order to constantly monitor quality and assure compliance with the ENplus® standards.
In addition, during the last winter season, we’ve also been supporting the public authorities in Italy in tackling national and international ENplus®-related fraud and counterfeiting (thanks also to the acceptance of the “application for action” sent by Bioenergy Europe to the Custom Authorities at the European level).
Our efforts in securing quality and market intelligence have been rewarded by a solid increase in ENplus® Italian certificates: currently, Italy is the second country in the world in terms of ENplus® certificates (sum of trading and production certificates), only preceded by Germany.
What will be of high importance now is to stand strong and not back down to low quality pellets, despite the difficulties we are experiencing in terms of supplies.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
The pellet market is going through a very stressful time in Italy. As pellet professionals know, in our country, pellet import prevails over domestic production, which covers less than 15% of the annual national pellet consumption. So, the Italian market is particularly exposed to the uncertainties of the international market dynamics, which is triggering unprecedent market conditions, with possible shortages and rising prices.
Italy is one of the European countries with the lowest forestry harvesting rates, due to structural issues affecting the forestry sector. Increasing the domestic production of wood biomass and generally supporting active and sustainable forestry may lead to robust social and environmental benefits, as well as economic and industrial ones, through the implementation of the “cascade” use of domestic wood. Unfortunately, enemies of the bioenergy sector prefer to advocate against its development tout court, rather than supporting well-oriented decisions and win-win strategies. This is also one of the priority challenges we’ll have to face in the near future.
We are fully committed to supporting the healthy development of the sector, despite the uneasy political environment, influenced by air quality issues (to which, pellet appliances barely contribute!) and unauthentic environmental claims. For those reading Italian, we’ve drafted the “White Paper on the future of the firewood and pellet heating sector in Italy”.
Italy is the leading consumer of premium pellets in Europe. In your opinion, why are pellets such a popular heating solution in your country?
I guess that pellets became very popular in Italy because they are a cheaper heating solution when compared to traditional fossil fuels, including natural gas.
Pellets offer versatile and adaptable technological solutions, ranging from small stoves heating just one room or small households, to highly technological boilers for larger spaces and commercial solutions.
Natural gas coverage is widely developed throughout the country; often pellet stoves are complementary to other heating solutions, but they can also be the main heating solution, especially in the regions where climate is mild, or in the islands (e.g. Sardinia) where the natural gas network is not developed.
More recently, a certain number of consumers has started preferring pellets also because this is a more environmentally friendly solution than traditional fossil fuels.
What is your prediction for the next winter season?
A year ago, no one could have predicted the actual evolution of the pellet sector, and the current market dynamics. Since then, the situation has changed a lot, and still may change much faster than any prediction.
For sure, severe challenges are ahead, ranging from the security of supplies (with possible shortages), price increases (already registered) and consumers’ reaction to the new situation – still to be fully acknowledged and assessed. We’ll need coordination, also in our communication towards both the sector and the end users.
To this end, EPC will serve the sector at its best. Then, as usual, the market will find its way.