The price of wood pellets is soaring in France due to a growing shortage of the wood-burning stove and pellet stove fuel as people prepare early for winter and more households entering the wood pellet market.
People who rely on the fuel may be facing an expensive winter if the trend continues, with stocks currently seeing “a risk of tension”.
Propellet, the national wood pellet professionals group l'Association nationale des professionnels du chauffage aux granulés de bois, told La Dépêche that although “we are not yet in a total shortage situation, we are seeing a situation at risk of tension”.
Why is there ‘tension’ in stock levels?
Demand rose earlier than usual this year, ahead of the start of the 2022 production. This is because people are preparing for winter very early, partly due to fear over rising energy costs.
Propellet said: "People are preparing for winter crazily in advance compared to previous years. There is always a delay in the time it takes for the sector to find its feet and increase its production capacity. Supply is limited compared to demand.”
Another factor is that more people are entering the pellet market every year.
The French heating federation, la Fédération Française des Combustibles, Carburants & Chauffage (FFCCC), said: "Subsidised installations of stoves and boilers are growing faster than the national capacity to produce the necessary fuels.”
Some shops have been forced to limit sales as a result and others have almost run out completely.
A manager of a shop in Fleurance, Gers, told La Dépêche: "We have no visibility on the volume, the date of arrival, or the prices. There is high demand at the moment. If this delivery does not arrive, it will be a loss for the shop.”
How long will it last?
The FFCCC has said that “the situation should smooth out over the coming months”, but that the lack of supply could be as much as 5-15% depending on the weather.
It said: “This range is linked to the weather. Everything depends on whether the winter is very cold or mild. The only solution [in the event of a very cold winter] would be to resort to importing. But it could be affected anyway, because many other countries are experiencing a similar shortage.”
The sector is growing and developing, however, Propellet said. Production is expected to increase by one million tonnes by 2024, and double by 2028.
Have prices increased?
Yes, as the value per tonne of pellets has more than doubled in 2022 compared to the same time in 2021.
“This is the law of supply and demand,” said Propellet. “However, it remains at an infinitely lower level than other energy sources.”
The rising cost of energy also affects pellet prices.
Propellet said: "This does not affect the pellet directly, but rather the transport, storage etc. Unfortunately, the whole production and distribution chain is affected.”
Are many people in France affected?
Increasing numbers of households have pellet-fuelled appliances.
Between 2020 and 2021, pellet stove sales in France increased by 41% and pellet boiler sales by 120%, with 180,000 and 32,000 units respectively.
In addition, the ban on new oil-fired appliances from July 1 is expected to boost the growth of pellet boilers, which work like oil-fired boilers because they provide domestic hot water.
Propellet said: "This method of heating is becoming increasingly popular with consumers and with the public authorities, who have put in place numerous aids to encourage consumers to convert to it.”
What should consumers do?
Propellet has advised consumers to behave responsibly in order to avoid shortages. And the FFCCC said: "We recommend that people be patient. Prices should calm down eventually.”
It also said that consumers should check their local supply levels before installing a new pellet-fuelled heater or stove.