A vision for bioenergy

27 Apr 2012 11:15 AM

Yesterday's new biomass strategy targets a sector supporting 50,000 jobs and producing 11 per cent of UK energy by 2020

Energy Ministers from 23 of the world's leading economies this week convene in London to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technology. Participating governments account for 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 90 per cent of global clean energy investment, so the key players are all attending.

Clean energy is good for our economy - it's about investing in new industrial sectors, insulating ourselves from the shocks of global gas prices and reducing our carbon emissions to tackle climate change.

In the UK, we have a legal requirement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, on 1990 levels. With that comes both a need to reduce the carbon intensity of our power system and secure our energy supplies.

That's where renewable energy comes in. We need investment across technologies. Issues around wind power and other technologies gain numerous headlines, but bioenergy could prove just as important in meeting our renewables goals.

Bioenergy, or biomass as it is most commonly referred, is one of the most versatile forms of low carbon and renewable generation.

It can be used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuel. It can provide a continuous and constant flow of energy. It can create opportunities for growth along the supply chain both in the UK and abroad.

A report by the UK's National Centre for renewable materials and technologies, being published yesterday, suggests it could support as many as 50,000 jobs by 2020. Bioenergy can also help us make use of wastes that are currently being sent to landfill.

Between April 2011 and February 2012, industry has announced investments totalling over £1.75bn for UK biomass technologies. These have the potential to support almost 4,800 new jobs.

We believe that with the right mechanisms in place by 2020 as much as 11 per cent to the UK's total primary energy demand could come from domestic and international biomass resources without jeopardising sustainability - across heat, transport and electricity.

No-one can say at this point how much sustainable biomass will be available to the UK in 2050 and what technical advances we may be benefiting from at that point. But our analysis shows around 12 per cent can be achieved (within a wide range of eight per cent to 21 per cent).

We recognise that bioenergy is not automatically low carbon, renewable or sustainable. So that's where our role as Government is important as this sector develops, and why we've been working with DEFRA, the Department for Transport (DFT) and a number of experts on the development of a Bioenergy Strategy.
Alongside this we have published a rigorous analysis of the carbon impacts of the use (and non-use) of wood for energy, and a study of the opportunities and trade-offs of different bioenergy deployment pathways.

The Strategy contains four key principles to guide UK bioenergy policy. First, bioenergy must offer genuine carbon savings to 2050 and beyond. Second, it must be cost-effective in meeting energy and climate change objectives. Third, it must take into account the needs of the wider bioeconomy. And finally, it must be ready to respond to any risks to key priorities such as food security and biodiversity.

We are clear that sustainable biomass could be a vital transitional fuel to reduce carbon emissions from current coal power generation. It has a role in providing low carbon heat for buildings and industry through boilers or use of biomethane. It can be an important tool in diverting waste away from landfill, and advanced biofuels could reduce carbon emissions across transport, particularly aviation and shipping where the alternatives are limited.

The Strategy was published yesterday does not seek to provide the answers to all of the numerous questions about bioenergy. But we are clear - we want bioenergy to deliver a significant amount of low carbon energy and it can support jobs and economic growth. But we are equally clear that affordability and sustainability are of the utmost importance.