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Using wood for Bioenergy

There has been a lot of media coverage recently on whether biomass electrcity delivers greenhouse gas savings. Certain NGOs recently claimed that biomass is dirtier than coal and that we fail to a fully account for the carbon emissions in our calculations.

They are right in one thing; biomass is not carbon free. There are emissions associated with harvesting, processing and transport of the fuel. It also takes time for trees to grow to absorb the carbon released by the trees we burn. However, if produced and used sustainably, it is it is substantially lower carbon than the alternative it is replacing.

We are putting strict rules in place. If a biomass electricity generator wishes to claim subsidies they will have to demonstrate they will have to meet a minimum greenhouse gas (GHG) saving of 60% compared to the EU electricity grid average. This is across the biomass life cycle; planting, growing, harvesting, processing, transport and conversion efficiency of the plant itself. And we are proposing to introduce a tightening GHG trajectory over time for biomass power to deliver greater GHG savings.

The NGO report gives the impression that our policy is simply to divert whole, mature trees from construction and manufacturing and turn them into energy. It isn’t. We don’t think this is sustainable, and it is not what our Bioenergy strategy suggests. The evidence gathered for that Strategy shows that the current typical practice of taking the residues from timber production deliver greater GHG benefits than leaving the forest unmanaged.

But even then the case against whole trees is not black and white. There are cases where taking whole trees can be justified; such as use of infected wood, from forestry thinning as part of standard forest management practices or when bringing neglected woodland back into management.

We are intending to introduce a requirement that where wood is used, this is sourced from sustainably managed forests. This will build on existing programmes – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). These certification schemes include social and well as environmental requirements.

Using biomass to replace coal for power generation is a short term means of reducing carbon emissions. It will play a key role in meeting our 2020 renewable energy targets while ensuring we have sufficient generation capacity over the next decade or so. It makes effective use of existing infrastructure at low additional cost to the customer. 

Longer term the role of biomass energy is likely to be in heat, in CHP plants, which make most efficient use of the fuel and in selected transport applications.  But for all of these applications, we clearly adhere to the principles of the bioenergy strategy: meaningful greenhouse gas reductions are crucial.

Filed under: Bioenergy

Comments: 25 Comments on Using wood for Bioenergy
Posted on: Nov 22 2012

25 Responses to “Using wood for Bioenergy”

  1. Biomass is renewable but not low carbon. It could lead to significant increases in emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide and have severe impacts on the health of children, older adults, and people with lung diseases. It also increases the risk of asthma and heart disease. Legislation should not promote the combustion of biomass!

  2. Peter Keith says:

    While the use of Biomass material in industrial power stations is questionable the use of domestic wood burning stoves is in smoke control areas is farcical and uncontrolled. With the amount of smoke and fume that is put out after dark we may as well open all the collieries and create jobs.

  3. Ron Hughes says:

    BioMass is hopelessly inefficient compared with Natural Gas.

    Harvesting & transporting to site is immensely energy-intensive.

    Transport to site is via dirty, diesel-powered lorries & ships – particulates from which significantly reduce air quality.

    The flueing of BioMass contraves the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

    The on-site storage & handling needs are significant & create their own carbon footprint.

    When will legislators face the fact that they’re causing more harm than good to our earth?

  4. John Martin says:

    Going off on a slight tangent, we have a large refurbishment sector in the building industry, likely to increase significantly with Green Deal.
    How many builders separate out good quality timber from their general builders rubble/waste? Not many this is potentially an untapped resource that would certainly provide a source of fuel for biomass rather than going in a skip and off to land fill, could recycling skips not be provided FOC by local authorities?
    Something to consider?

  5. @Tim Coote “I thought that David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” demonstrated that short coppice rotation was the highest energy density per land area of renewables for UK.”

    In the right areas, on-shore wind and solar PV give a much high rate of power generation per ha than biofuels or biomass (even coppiced willow or Miscanthus). Two problems with bioenergy – firstly photosynthesis is inefficient (3% vs 15% for solar PV), secondly you need to cut, transport and burn biofuel/biomass, and in an electricity-only power station the conversion efficiency is only mid 30% at best. Meaning two-thirds of what you grow is simply wasted as smoke and hot air up the chimney. With carbon emissions as accepted by everyone on this blog.

    Wind farms allow the land around and under them to be used for other purposes, eg sheep grazing. I would prefer to see wind turbines than have the land obliterated by huge dark monoculture plantations of fast growing conifers, Miscanthus and willow coppice.

  6. Tony Price says:

    This article is not just short on facts and figures, it’s totally devoid of them. The author appears to have a “rose-tinted spectacle” view of provision of UK power from wood biomass. An environmentalist.com article says “In Britain, the next three years will see wood-fuelled power station capacity increase sevenfold, requiring, according to the campaign group Biofuelwatch, so much timber that it would need an area 12 times the size of Liechtenstein to grow it.”.

    Some kind of “environmental madness” seems to have infected many who want to see “low-carbon” power production. To achieve this, they champion the use of slow-growing wood which on its own could never provide sufficient fuel even if mature trees were used, and then react to criticisms of felling mature forests by claiming that the much lower volumes of forest thinnings and wood waste from wood products could be used instead. Don’t the proponents of wood biomass own a pocket calculator? That’s all that’s needed to show that wood biomass can never be “sustaibable”, nor provide enough fuel even in the longer term.

    In addition to all this, wood is a “low-density” fuel, and the only way it’s “low carbon” is that it contains a much smaller proportion of it than do coal and natural gas, and therefore a very much smaller potential heat content. Low density implies higher transport costs because of the higher volumes needed; these costs can be reduced by reducing the water-content – an energy intensive process in itself. Even if wood is totally dry, wood cellulose contains the equivalent of 5 molecules of water for every 6 atoms of carbon. If there really is a need (many doubt it) to reduce CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, the simple medium-to-long-term solution would be to plant more trees, not to cut down existing trees and burn them, thus releasing their sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere. Wood biomass is an excellent example of cutting off the branch you’re sitting on.

  7. Clive Best says:

    You forget that mankind already deforested all of the UK and Europe centuries ago. Wood was our first fuel and created our first Energy crunch. Its availability balanced with farmland limited the population in Britain to < 10 million. The maths for biofuel does not add up.

  8. AlecM says:

    My Dear Bernie, as you have a scientific training you should know there can be no CO2-AGW. The ~100 m IR emission/absorption depth of the atmosphere is within 1 K of the Earth’s surface so its GHG thermal IR, near enough black body, switches off IR in those same bands at the surface apart from a few water vapour sidebands.

    No IR absorption, no ‘GHG blanket’, no CO2-AGW. This is basic radiation physics. Unfortunately, meteorologists like Trenberth are taught incorrect physics and imagine ‘pyrgeometers’, IR pyrometers, measure a real energy flux, not a temperature signal. So, the models exaggerate warming by ~6.8x.

    Please tell those at DECC there can be no CO2 climate change, the Earth is cooling as the sun’s magnetic field heads below 1500 Gauss and cloud cover increases and we should be planning for ice blocking the Northern ports from ~2020. This has been the biggest scientific and commercial fraud in history and DECC is at the heart of it.

  9. Sandy_S says:

    Bernie,
    hopefully you’ll have read the comments and now realise that this is foolish in the extreme. As you work in DECC I somehow doubt that you’ll read the comments and, if you do, unless you’re unique in that organisation you won’t understand the points being made. We’ll probably never know for sure in any event

  10. Nick Grant says:

    I am a reformed biomass enthusiast who was very disappointed to realise that biomass is renewable but not low carbon.

    Nothing to add to Kate’s excellent comment but want to add my anti biomass vote. For longer version see the AECB discussion paper Biomass a Burning Issue written with Alan Clarke written from the perceptive of sustainable building designers.

    I thought the argument was done and dusted, clearly not.

  11. Burning such huge amounts of biomass – most of it imported – is insanity and trying to hide behind an obvious accounting error (carbon debt) to justify it is insulting our intelligence.

    If you ignore the carbon debt from burning biomass, it’s like saying an interest-only mortgage is the same as and as good as a repayment mortgage.

    You say:

    “They are right in one thing; biomass is not carbon free. There are emissions associated with harvesting, processing and transport of the fuel. It also takes time for trees to grow to absorb the carbon released by the trees we burn. However, if produced and used sustainably, it is it is substantially lower carbon than the alternative it is replacing.”

    You slip in an admission here that the combustion emissions from burning wood do matter, but worded in a way to give the impression that they are a minor factor.

    Clearly they are not minor. The smokestack emissions from the wood burning at Tilbury are equal or greater per MWh than those from burning coal. Ask RWE that specific question – don’t get side tracked into the question of future sequestration, which is irrelevant. CO2 in the atmosphere warms, whether it came from burning coal, gas or wood.

    How long does it take for “for trees to grow to absorb the carbon released by the trees we burn”? Is that carbon release and re-sequestration process actually factored in to the calculations of the carbon intensity of biomass electricity?

    Does the FSC / PEFC certification system you’re relying on actually guarantee additional planting and re-growth through to maturity? Does it ensure ADDITIONAL biomass is grown to absorb the so-called biogenic emissions? Or it just looking at what practices have been applied in the past to grow the trees being burnt now?

    If there is no guarantee that the combustion emissions from burning wood will be absorbed by additional growth, then this practice is no better than coal burning. Subsidising it is making us, as energy consumers, pay extra with no choice, and we unintentionally speed up global warming.

    One of the major proponents of biomass electricity (Forth Energy) has put forward various “realistic fuelling scenarios” in support of its planning applications for new power stations in Scotland . In the face of critical comment about the carbon intensity of its electricity, it has adjusted these scenarios to use a considerable proportion of Brazilian Eucalyptus pellets. These have the “advantage” of a faster rotation cycle, and shorter carbon debt, but with attendant very serious ecological and social impacts. Which are not measured or controlled by the EU or UK sustainability criteria.

    The future is likely to see bioenergy fuel supplies increasingly come from such sources, grown in vast monoculture plantations in tropical or semi-tropical regions. After all the ecological and social problems with palm oil production, are you really intending to repeat the errors in the name of producing ‘green’ electricity?

    The real objective of biomass electricity – as others have said on this thread – is to meet the EU 2020 renewable energy target as cheaply as possible. Not to help manage down global GHG emissions.

  12. Foxgoose says:

    “..they will have to demonstrate they will have to meet a minimum greenhouse gas (GHG) saving of 60% compared to the EU electricity grid average”

    “..we are proposing to introduce a tightening GHG trajectory over time ”

    “We are intending to introduce a requirement that where wood is used, this is sourced from sustainably managed forests.”

    Sounds like yet another job creation scheme for green bureaucrats.

    I expect they’ll outnumber chain saw operators by around 10:1.

  13. Rev Paul Cawthorne says:

    I understand in southern USA the brash and off-cuts are used to fire the processing plants producing wood pellets from whole trees because those pellets for export are seen as a premium product needing maximum calorific value. How does this use of whole trees fit with DECC’s claims for sustainability of biomass being used to power plants like Ironbridge to avoid 2015 emissions threshold changes?

    “Using biomass to replace coal for power generation is a short term means of reducing carbon emissions” – surely it is just the opposite as short-term the emissions are increased and only gradually absorbed again by fresh growth. Short-term fix offshoring problems and avoiding facing the real issues seems a more apt description. Even the Timber Trade Journal sees the policy as inept.

  14. RW says:

    Bernie Bulkin’s posting shows conclusively why such matters should not be left to DECC to deal with. Anyone that knows anything about forestry is aware that both the Forest Stewardship Council and the PEFC are completely discredited forest certification schemes, that are not even capable of guaranteeing legality, let alone environmental and social sustainability.

    Neither scheme takes any consideration whatsoever of the CO2/climate impacts of the forestry operations they certify, and it is possible to point to any number of FSC-certified forestry operations that in themselves cause massive carbon emissions, and that’s even before the wood has been fed into a boiler.

    And the suggestion that only wood residues would be sufficient to make any impact is sheer nonsense. Wood from most sources (apart perhaps from some of the rainforest areas) has for years been processed highly efficiently, and almost nothing apart from bark – which is left in the forest to rot into the soil – is left over.

    The only way that large-scale wood burning would be a cleaner form of energy production would be if large areas were planted now specifically for that purpose, and planted progressively for the next 40-80 years, and only then harvested and burned.

    In the meantime, sorry Bernie, back to the drawing board, and time to start doing what you’re evidently doing everything to avoid – sharply reducing per capita energy consumption in the UK.

  15. James P says:

    “we clearly adhere to the principles of the bioenergy strategy: meaningful greenhouse gas reductions are crucial.”

    Clearly not, if you are burning what would otherwise be turned in building materials. This is foolish, although doubtless profitable for some…

  16. Dodgy Geezer says:

    “…There has been a lot of media coverage recently on whether biomass electrcity delivers greenhouse gas savings…” – BB

    “..Wood thinnings are currently used to make paper and plywood. So the end result of this policy will be to (i) increase carbon emissions (ii) put people out of jobs…” – BH

    It’s actually worse – in two ways.

    1 – It has become obvious now that CO2 does not drive the Earth’s temperature towards dangerous levels. The fact that CO2 has risen while the temperature has stayed the same is proof of that. So this whole policy is predicated on biased science driven by activist scientists, and is a complete waste of time and money.

    2 – Every single ‘climate change’ policy has been an attempt to interfere with the normal workings of the economy and direct it towards a ‘higher good’. This is how a ‘command economy’ works in under communist theory. We have watched communist economic practice collapse when it was being operated by people who wanted it to work. This system is being undertaken in a capitalist economy, where people are more interested in making money fast. In consequence, EVERY ‘green’ initiative I have seen has been ‘gamed’ by commercial companies, and turned onto a money-making scam. Every developed western economy is now suffering a huge and growing leaching of taxpayer funds to entrepreneurs and Chinese factories with nothing to show for it except the incipient collapse of our energy infrastructure. In God’s name, stop this farce before it is too late!

  17. Bishop Hill says:

    Wood thinnings are currently used to make paper and plywood. So the end result of this policy will be to (i) increase carbon emissions (ii) put people out of jobs.

  18. Tim Coote says:

    I thought that David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” demonstrated that short coppice rotation was the highest energy density per land area of renewables for UK. Isn’t this what this blog’s about?

    SEWTHA also does a good job of separating out the different energy uses, which seem to confuse people when it comes to what we use energy for and what we’ve agreed to do wrt reducing carbon emissions.

  19. Should we not consider that fossil fuels and oils are a purchased commodity, and by definition replacing these fuels with sustainable wood, will make wood a more expensive commodity.

    Once the land owners and farmers of UK, as given a more profitable crop to grow then the question is, who grows food?

    Biomass in any form will create a shortage of land and a shortage of food.We are an island, burn waste.

  20. Mark Brinkley says:

    I can’t help agreeing with the other comments. Burning biomass may be a cheap way of meeting EU 2020 targets, but it’s bad science. Carbon emissions need to be abated now, not gently be absorbed over a 60-80 year growing cycle.

    If anything should be subsidised, it’s the use of timber products in construction where the embodied carbon could be sequestered for the lifespan of the building, and might just replace the use of cement or concrete. Subsidising the burning of biomass is verging on the offensive.

  21. Kate de Selincourt says:

    A few thoughts:
    You say: “If produced and used sustainably, [biomass] is it is substantially lower carbon than the alternative it is replacing.” That entirely depends on how you define sustainable – yet you have scarcely attempted to define it at all, and certainly the criteria you do propose, would not rule out biomass that led to more cumulative emissions in the short and even, in the long term, than the fossil fuels you hope it will replace.
    Furthermore, whether biomass is “lower carbon” obviously depends on the ‘alternative it is replacing’. With a limited renewables budget and set renewables target, might biomass in fact be drawing subsidy away from and therefore, replacing , say, wave power, which is probably lower carbon than biomass?
    The complete sidelining of energy efficiency by this government (where are the subsidies for negawatts, the most renewable energy source of all?) means it looks very much as though generation of all kinds is actually replacing efficiency. Which is certainly not higher-carbon than biomass burning.
    You say: “We are putting strict rules in place. If a biomass electricity generator wishes to claim subsidies they will have to demonstrate they will have to meet a minimum greenhouse gas (GHG) saving of 60% compared to the EU electricity grid average. This is across the biomass life cycle; planting, growing, harvesting, processing, transport and conversion efficiency of the plant itself. “
    These “Strict rules” are not especially strict, but more to the point, they do not cover the life cycle of biomass at all: they completely ignore both the death of the plant in the generator’s furnace, and the birth and re-growth of the successor plant. Until you look at the carbon implications of both these processes, you cannot say you have looked at the “life cycle”.
    You say: “The NGO report gives the impression that our policy is simply to divert whole, mature trees from construction and manufacturing and turn them into energy. It isn’t. We don’t think this is sustainable, and it is not what our Bioenergy strategy suggests. The evidence gathered for that Strategy shows that the current typical practice of taking the residues from timber production deliver greater GHG benefits than leaving the forest unmanaged.”
    “Current typical practice “ is gloriously unreferenced here! You are clearly unable to guaranteed that no whole trees will be burned – the photos at http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Whole-Tree-Wood-Pellet-Production-Report.pdf are ample proof that, of course they are – as indeed last year’s OFGEM report on sustainability of biomass also indicated. The only protection offered against the burning of whole trees in the proposed sustainability criteria are your hope that trunk wood is too valuable, therefore too expensive, for generators to burn.

    (I quote the consultation document: “We expect the price premium that saw-logs command in the market will prevent their use in power generation. The main woody biomass sources for power and CHP are considered to be sawmill processing residues (e.g. off-cuts and sawdust), lower quality wood from forestry management (e.g. branch-wood and small round-wood) and waste wood (e.g. construction and demolition waste wood.). Wood panel producers use a proportion of these available feedstocks and may be affected by increased demand for biomass heat and power. However, a large proportion of woodland in the UK is unmanaged and could be used to supply fuel and other timber products to the market.”

    “Expect” “Considered to be” “could be”, don’t carry quite the same weight as “Will require” “are definitely” and “will be”, so you are admitting it’s in the lap of the market. And plenty of manufacturers will tell you this ‘prevention’ is already failing (see for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15756074)
    You say: “But even then the case against whole trees is not black and white. There are cases where taking whole trees can be justified; such as use of infected wood, from forestry thinning as part of standard forest management practices or when bringing neglected woodland back into management.”
    You own advisors, North Energy and Forestry Research, examining restoration of neglected forests in some detail warn that: “progressive reduction of carbon stocks in trees (and also for trees, litter and soil combined) due to periodic thinning operations … an inevitable and necessary by-product of introducing production and are also essential as part of managing the stand to achieve regeneration and growth of new and younger trees. Nevertheless, tree carbon stocks are reduced by more than 50% over a period of a century. The carbon stocks in the trees should stabilise and even recover to some extent as new and young trees regenerate. Lessons are still being learned about the best ways to restore management in „neglected‟ forests .”
    In other words, while you might be right, no-one really knows for sure, but they do believe the likelihood is the initial impact is net emissions, and the stocks will take a while to make up the loss. Because it’s a poorly understood area, you cannot make sweeping generalisations.
    The NGO Biofuelwatch have also pointed out (and it’s pretty obvious when you think about it) that a dead tree (killed eg by pine beetle infection) takes a lot longer to rot than it would take to burn it in a power station – and furthermore, sending in giant machines to harvest them would crush the young regrowth, which is otherwise doing perfectly well in the light and air around the dead tree. And – given recent concern over ash dieback, sudden oak death, and so forth – how great an idea would it be to move infected biomaterial around the country, never mind around the world?
    You say “We are intending to introduce a requirement that where wood is used, this is sourced from sustainably managed forests. This will build on existing programmes – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). These certification schemes include social and well as environmental requirements.”

    “Sustainable certification” is not designed to say anything about carbon balances. It is designed to protect the long term productivity of forests, but allows very stock -depleting operations such as tree felling and stump removal. After all, it isn’t the forester’s responsibility to say what happens to that tree next – it is the customer’s.

    On top of this, the standard you have set, only requires 70% of any consignment to be from a certified source – so 30% of all the timber burned in UK power stations can still be “unsustainable” even by your standards.
    You say: “Using biomass to replace coal for power generation is a short term means of reducing carbon emissions. It will play a key role in meeting our 2020 renewable energy targets while ensuring we have sufficient generation capacity over the next decade or so. It makes effective use of existing infrastructure at low additional cost to the customer.”

    You cannot know that the biomass you are burning will reduce carbon emissions relative to coal, never mind relative to shutting down dirty old coal power stations and investing in efficiency instead, because you are not analysing the full carbon impact of the fuel.

    The rest of what you say may however be true. Would it would be lot more honest to stop pretending biomass is anything other than a cheap way to meet an EU target which it is pretty plain, now that the biofuels debacle has unfolded, was well-intentioned but ultimately misguided. We could then ask our citizens if they want to spend their subsidy money on just meeting one target (cheaply, in all senses) while missing the more important one of tackling climate change, or if they would rather go for the win-win of meeting the EU target and generating low carbon energy at the same time.
    You say: “Longer term the role of biomass energy is likely to be in heat, in CHP plants, which make most efficient use of the fuel and in selected transport applications. But for all of these applications, we clearly adhere to the principles of the bioenergy strategy: meaningful greenhouse gas reductions are crucial.”
    You don’t adhere to the principles in the bioenergy strategy yet – as that strategy clearly called for carbon debt to be taken into account. Meaningful greenhouse gas reductions cannot be achieved without a meaningful assessment f the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our actions. Ignoring the very high initial emissions from burning biomass “because it’ll probably be taken up again sometime by plant regrowth” means your greenhouse gas accounting is currently meaningless.
    And bear in mind that the damage done to the climate by CO2 is cumulative. Emitting CO2 in year one and then re-absorbing it over the next 50 years is not the same as never having emitted it. The mathematics of cumulative impacts this mean that if your initial emission is higher (eg, because wood emits, say, twice as much CO2 per kWh as the fossil mix it replaces), and then if the regrowth isn’t very quick, the cumulative impact of the biomass can exceed the cumulative impact of fossil fuels for much longer than a single production cycle.
    There is a common error, in assuming that the level of CO2 in the air at any one point in time equates to the state of the climate. We know this isn’t true. The level of CO2 is more equivalent to the output of your heater than the level on your thermostat. If you’ve had the heater blaring away at a high setting, then turn it down until after 50 years it’s off, it doesn’t mean you will have a cold room. It might even be hotter than a room where the heater was on low, all the time. Until this is properly accounted for (for all the options), we cannot optimise the greenhouse gas performance of our fuel choices.

    If and when you arrive at a more comprehensive way to account for biomass carbon emissions, I am certain that much of the biomass currently labelled as “sustainable” will turn out to have been high carbon all along. If you pretend that it is otherwise, you are sowing confusion and possibly even misleading investors, who may not all be as au fait with the science as you might hope. What you will face then is exactly the situation the EU has just faced with the attempt to address the very pressing issue of indirect land use change in the biofuel standards. Because this represented a tightening of criteria to bring practice more closely in line with intention, the biofuel producers wept and gnashed their teeth because, apparently, they hadn’t seen it coming and had “legitimate expectations” based on the previous (and, I believe, still current) faulty sustainability criteria. Let’s not repeat this sorry story.

    None of this is to say biomass is never an appropriate choice. What I am saying is that with the accounting systems proposed in the DECC consultation you refer to, you will never be able to find out. And I have to add that if you do look at it properly, accounting for the cumulative impacts, a lot of biomass is indeed ‘dirtier than coal’. It is wrong to pretend otherwise, just by looking away from the inconvenient evidence.

    If you did carry out meaningful analysis I think it would be pretty clear that the cost and carbon saving benefits of investing in efficiency would far outweigh any that can be achieved by burning other people’s forests, even just the little bits. Why government after government has failed to grasp this simple fact will be one of the mysteries of history in the future – if, of course, we are lucky enough to have one.

    • Bernie Bulkin says:

      Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comments. I would note the following in reply:
      First, in thinking about sustainability, I do indeed think about a broad definition, including the basic principles of living within environmental limits (not just CO2), promoting a fair economy, a strong healthy and just society, good governance, and using sound science responsibly. On all these grounds I believe that conversion of old coal plants to biomass is a good thing to do, again, assuming that the strictures we have already detailed are in place.
      I agree that we must always look at the energy choices we make compared to the alternative(s). You mention two explicitly, efficiency and wave power. Regarding efficiency, of course we must do everything possible to use energy more efficiently. I dont believe that our renewables subsidies are in any way detrimental to this. Indeed, in our plans for achieving the 2020 renwables targets we already have very big targets on efficiency. Efficiency gains are generally the cheapest thing we can do, and we will continue to encourage this, both from a policy and technology point of view. You also mention other renewable energy sources, in particular wave power, possibly being crowded out by support for bioenergy. At the moment, wave power is prototype devices that are being tested in the water. Good progress is being made, but the cost at the moment is still much higher than anything else we are supporting, probably at least 5x higher than bioelectricity today. These costs will come down, and Government is supporting this in many ways, but that is for the 2020s, not for now. The principle is still right, and we welcome a healthy competition between renewable technologies in the marketplace. This is already happening with onshore wind, the drive to reduce offshore wind costs, solar PV, landfill gas, hydro, etc. We continue to push subsidies down and encourage cost reductions.

      • Kate de Selincourt says:

        Dear Bernie,
        Thank you very much for taking the trouble to reply to me here. I am glad that you are looking at all the options and that you agree that we must also look at all limits and not just CO2.

        Not surprisingly, I entirely share your desire to reduce the burning of coal.

        I am not the only one to have commented on the way that generation of all kinds has detracted from the efficiency agenda for decades. At last, thank goodness, DECC is taking the first tentative steps to redress this imbalance and for this I say a hearty three cheers.

        However, within the renewables target, it seems inevitable that the more of the target you can meet (however dangerously) with biomass, the less attention will need to be paid to wind, wave, solar and the rest.

        That aside, I’m not sure you have addressed my central point about the shortcomings in the proposed system for accounting for the GHG emissions from burning biomass, and in particular, woody biomass.

        The current method of calculating the emissions from burning biomass ignore:
        1) the immediate large emissions of CO2 from the chimney (just as large as with coal),
        2) the long-lasting nature of these emissions while forest regrows (the carbon debt);
        3) the permanent nature of the loss of stores, as new harvesting kicks in for each now biomass burning installation
        4) the impact of potentially driving product markets to use more GHG- and energy-intensive alternatives when timber raw materials are burned
        5) The uncertain nature of ANY of the “resequestration”. Even detailed carbon accounting is subtracting a hoped-for future sequestration from a real, current emission – so there are no guarantees, only hopes.

        None of these factors are taken into account by the “stricures you have in place”. Yet the five points above all seem very real to me. Am I mistaken about any of them? Do please tell me if you believe they are.

        Unless these calculations are all carried out openly and honestly, so far as I can see it simply is not possible to assert that “conversion of old coal plants to biomass is a good thing to do” because ther infomation isn’t there to make that judgement; unless policy is simply a matter of belief – and only a cynic would suggest such a thing.

        Once again, thank you for replying to me and my thanks to DECC for giving us this space to debate your policies.

  22. before cutting trees you should plant trees or create forests using fast growing and high BTU trees

  23. Bill Parker says:

    A notion that planting (‘renewable’) conifers can contribute toward ‘Carbon neutrality’ is specious. Both the ecology and the carbon absorption rate, for coniferous forest is entirely different from deciduous comparisons.
    Biomass burning is dirtier and of significantly higher accidental fire risk than is burning coal. Per unit energy produced, it also produces more carbon.
    This is yet another policy born of pusillanimity and ignorance of science.

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