Back to newsroom

Business Green: Government aims to ignite biomass industry with new strategy


Accelerating the use of biomass to power homes, businesses, and transport could build a sector capable of supplying 11 per cent of all UK energy by the end of the decade, according to a new government strategy to be released today.

The government committed to producing a new Bioenergy Strategy when releasing its Renewables Roadmap last year, a document that claimed burning wood, waste or agricultural residues could contribute up to 6GW of electricity, more than double the current level, and 50 terawatt hours (TWh) of heat by 2020.

A new report by the NNFCC, the UK's National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials, published alongside the strategy finds such an increase in biomass for electricity and heat could support 30,000 and 18,000 jobs in the respective sectors by 2020. It also estimates anaerobic digestion systems could provide a further 2,500 jobs.

The government sees biomass technologies as a way of providing secure and predictable energy supplies and lowering the carbon emissions of electricity generation by co-firing wood alongside coal or switching power stations to biomass entirely.

Writing exclusively on BusinessGreen today, energy minister Charles Hendry outlines the scale of the opportunity, calling sustainable biomass a "vital transitional fuel" to cut emissions from the power sector, as well as from air and sea transport where alternatives to fossil fuels are limited.

"Bioenergy ... is one of the most versatile forms of low carbon and renewable generation," he writes.

"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."

The strategy predicts that while biomass is capable of supplying 11 per cent of UK electricity by 2020, this is likely to peak at 16 per cent in 2040, before falling back to 12 per cent a decade later as other countries' bioenergy sectors compete for feedstock.

However, to achieve its goals the government may need to revisit the subsidy framework for the technology, as both E.ON and Drax have complained the current incentives are not sufficient to make large-scale plants economic.

The government is also keen to addresses concerns raised by green campaigners that there is an insufficient supply of material to support a substantial shift to biomass, which may lead to the felling of trees in protected areas, damaging biodiversity and potentially overriding any carbon savings.

"We want bioenergy to deliver a significant amount of low carbon energy and it can support jobs and economic growth," Hendry writes. "But we are equally clear that affordability and sustainability are of the utmost importance."

The strategy makes it clear that any bioenergy used must deliver genuine carbon reductions over the lifecycle of the biomass. And it commits the government to assessing the impacts of its strategy on food security, wider environmental outcomes or global development.

Meanwhile, an analysis of the carbon impacts of using wood for energy, along with the alternatives, and a study of the opportunities and trade-offs of different pathways the country could follow are both expected to be released alongside the strategy and jobs study.