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Log Shortages – Perfect Storm for Winter Supplies?

05 August, 2022
    Log Shortages – Perfect Storm for Winter Supplies?

    Thoughts on the coming season from Lawson Wight

    Will the UK run out of logs this winter? I think there may be serious shortages. Can we do anything to help – yes, read on? Predictions are always risky, but I feel there’s a perfect storm of factors coming together which suggest there will be difficulties.

    Even if supplies don’t actually run out, the pinch could lead to significant price hikes.

    If there are shortages, supplies will start to dry up around the second half of January when many customers look at their log store after the Christmas splurge and think ‘That’s not going to get me to the end of the season’.

    I can recall 3 occasions in the last 20 years when there have been log supply problems and they all showed up towards the end of January. On each occasion the root causes were a bit different. The last occasion was the ’20 / ’21 season when many local dealers ran dry. That winter, most people spent extra hours in their homes due to covid lockdowns / fear of going out etc. Fires and stoves were used for more hours each week and by mid-January, many were running short of logs and trying to order more.

    On that occasion the internet and the national suppliers of kiln dried wood only just managed to plug the gap in local shortages.

    What is causing the problem this winter?

    1. Massive price increases in Gas, electricity and oil mean greater demand for logs.
    2. Supply chain problems for internet / national suppliers?
    3. Fuel security concerns
    4. New legislation on wood fuel affecting small suppliers

     

    1.Energy price increases.

    I think I’ll use the woodburner more this winter’. For the last couple of months every chimney sweep has heard this several times every day. Our customers are telling us exactly what is going to happen, what should we be advising them? People who own a woodburning stove know the significant contribution it can make to their heating. Indeed, in autumn and spring, many will use their fire instead of switching on the gas or oil because they know the stove can do the job. They tell us they’ll use their fires more, because although some log suppliers have increased the price, it’s nothing like the step change in the cost of other fuels.

    Some stove owners know they can meet the majority of their heating needs through wood burning, provided they are willing to take the time and have sufficient dry fuel. More of them will do just that this winter.

    As usual, I will meet around 90% of my personal home heating using logs and wood briquettes this winter. This fuel has cost me exactly the same as last year, so it’s no surprise that others will look to their stoves. It all amounts to greater demand.

     

    1. Supply chain problems

    The UK imports wood for fuel. A lot of it is pellet destined for power stations, but a significant amount will be used as logs in the nation’s stoves and fires. Most imported wood / logs will be destined for national sellers and distributors who have a significant online presence. It could be dried / pre-packed logs in crates etc. or unprocessed tree trunks. There are various sources, but some came from Belarus and western Russia. These would probably be exported through Latvia / Baltic states ports. We can assume these, and other historically reliable sources and supply routes are interrupted. This places extra pressure and cost on remaining stocks.

    In addition, some European countries are seriously exposed to a winter fuel crisis due to reliance and insecurity regarding Russian gas supplies. We have already heard the energy saving stories of Germans having cold showers at the swimming pool, public buildings unlit and a ban on portable heaters and air conditioners. Many homes in Europe have highly efficient wood stoves and will be looking to secure wood supplies. Whether there are any new difficulties with importing wood as a result of Brexit I don’t know, but it’s unlikely to have got easier. Yet more pressure on European wood supplies.

     

    1. Fuel security concerns

    What if there is another big storm, a power cut? What if the gas is turned off? What if gas and oil prices double again, What if there’s a cold winter? What if, what if?

    When wood fuel users have fuel security concerns, there is only one result – they order more logs! Why not, if the extra supply is not required it will simply be put towards next season and they’ve lost nothing.

     

    1. New legislation on wood fuel

    New legislation in England (May 2022) means it’s now an offence for anyone to sell less than 2m³ of logs unless they comply with the ‘Ready to Burn’ certification scheme. Joining this scheme costs over £500 for a small trader (supplying less than 600m³ of logs per year). Anyone not complying with the legislation could receive a £300 fixed penalty notice, or possibly more in a ‘severe’ case dealt with by a court.

    Small scale log dealers account for a significant percentage of wood fuel supplied in the UK. It’s difficult to say how much they supply as many never even advertise, but there are lots of them. The Ready to Burn legislation risks driving some out of the market due to ‘red tape’ and the increased cost of staying legal. If they decide it’s too much trouble to continue trading, their once locally sourced, locally processed and locally sold wood logs will not necessarily enter the fuel market via another supplier. So, although we can’t know to what extent it may reduce supply, if any small traders leave the market, there will be fewer logs.

    How can we help?

    It’s not all doom and gloom and we can do something to help.

    We should encourage consumers to source their entire winter supply of logs now, before autumn even starts. I was asked, ‘but won’t this create a shortage?’ I doubt it, stocks are at their highest in August and September. The more people stock up in advance of winter, the better. Selling logs well before winter gives many producers and suppliers the time and physical space to re-stock. This can create additional supply opportunities later in the burning season. It’s akin to a sweep moving their customer from October to May: May is likely to be quieter and the new ‘empty’ slot in October can always be filled.

    We can also do something positive to help the situation in future years. It’s a good time to encourage customers with space to think about sourcing their supply for winter ’22 / ’23 now. This not only secures their supply but allows some local dealers to supply more fresh cut ‘green’ wood for drying at home, whilst taking some pressure off the pre dried market. It may also save consumers money as green wood is usually cheaper. This is a habit which comes very naturally to our European neighbours. Who knows, perhaps we will even begin to see some of those wonderful continental ‘log pile sculpture’ creations.”

    Some parts of the country may escape shortages – Storm Arwen tore through Northern England and Scotland in November 2021 and even now there are many fallen trees to clear. It is estimated the storm felled around 1.5 million tonnes or 20% of Scotland’s annual timber harvest! Much of this storm damage was to pines and conifers and a significant amount will ultimately only be suitable for firewood. So there’s a chance that suppliers and consumers may turn to this source. Perhaps we can finally get rid of the myth around burning conifers and people may realise they can burn pine in their stoves without causing problems in the chimney. Tree diseases like Ash die back are bad news for our environment. But die back is likely to result in additional wood fuel reaching the market and may add to supply in affected areas.

    Wood fuel briquettes may be in high demand if logs are scarce. Briquettes production is not so likely to be affected by raw material supply issues.

    Slightly worryingly, what if we have a cold winter? Or even a really cold one? If we have prolonged spells of cold weather, demand could increase significantly – I know that my log basket empties almost twice as quickly on a really cold and windy day. A cold winter will compound on all the other factors to further squeeze supplies and increase cost.

    A consumer version of this article is available here Log shortages? ‘Perfect Storm’ for Woodburner Fuel Supplies


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