After a very bumpy year in 2022, against a backdrop of soaring prices and fears of shortages, 2023 got off to a rather bad start for professionals in boilers and wood pellet stoves. Sales fell by 60%.
This is a shock for a sector which has just experienced fifteen years of uninterrupted growth and an almost thirty-fold increase in the number of homes equipped. They are nearly 1.75 million in France. In the first half of 2023, only some 40,000 new installations were recorded, compared to 210,000 in the whole of 2022.
To the point that some installers, who had not seen this cold snap coming and had continued to beef up their sales and technical teams, are now in difficulty.
The behavior of some buyers has disrupted the sector
“We clearly have an image problem, because the reasons for this fall are totally artificial. With the start of the war in Ukraine, there was panic and people bought large quantities of pellets in the spring, sometimes double what they needed. It was irrational and it completely disrupted the sector, whose production is constant throughout the year”, says Eric Vial, the general delegate of Propellet, the association of professionals in the wood pellet sector, which is preparing to launch a major communication campaign by the end of the month.
To make matters worse, prices have risen a lot, sometimes tripled. This increase has blurred the image of an energy, until then less expensive than the others. This surge in prices is primarily linked to the rise in the prices of gas and electricity, which are necessary to manufacture pellets, sawdust compressed at high pressure. Added to this, higgledy-piggledy, inflation in the price of plastic bags, higher transport costs and the disruption of the European pellet market, with the halt in deliveries from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, even if they represented only a few percent of the French supply, which is 85% French.
A very competitive energy, assure its promoters
Today, prices have come down, but remain much higher than before the crisis. A ton of pellets costs around €500 compared to €300 to €350 in 2021, a level to which it seems difficult to return. “We are the subject of many attacks on social networks and a lot of false information is circulating,” says Eric Vial.
According to him, wood pellets remain “a virtuous energy, on average half the price of electricity, and 10 to 15% less than oil heating”. Its price would be comparable with that of gas.
In its new communication campaign, the sector also intends to debunk the idea that the market can no longer continue to grow, due to a lack of sufficient production capacity. “We have two to three new factories being built in France each year, by at least 2030,” said the boss of Propellet. He recalls that last year, production increased by 250,000 tonnes while consumption increased by 100,000 tonnes.