‘The Impacts of the Demand for Woody Biomass for Power and Heat on Climate and Forests’ report by Chatham House has been released. The report includes a disappointing number of wrong and very misleading statements. Of course we cannot sit back and allow the uninformed opinions to have any impact on the way this thriving industry is perceived – we have highlighted the four most important points below to set the record straight.
1. Not all pellets are the same
Firstly these reports concern the importation of wood biomass for power generation, primarily Drax as the company makes up 82% of all UK biomass imports. Drax will by the end of this year have three 300MW power plants fuelled by either solely with wood pellets or co-fired with wood pellets. Together the three plants are equivalent of 2/3 of Europe’s entire biomass consumption. These pellets are a much lower grade of biomass than the EN Plus A1 pellets to be made and distributed by Zora and Yamuna. They must be ground down and blown into the furnace-like boilers generating steam for the power. While they have undoubtedly replaced coal in the power plants, a much dirtier fossil fuel, the transportation of pellets mostly from North America does have its own carbon footprint. Our own plans involve not only the manufacture of much higher grade of pellets for consumption in homes and small businesses for heating, but also the key tenant of sourcing wood locally (within 100mile radius or less) and selling locally.
2. The use of biomass promotes better forestry management
Wood biomass creates value in forests which cannot be used for milling. Wood mills are highly automated and require trees which as close to uniform as possible in terms of size and species. This means there are swathes of forests, particularly in the UK, which are poorly managed or not managed because their owners see no benefit to balance the costs incurred to properly manage them. Better management means faster growing forests and this in turn absorbs greater quantities of carbon dioxide. Wood pellet production can use species ignored by wood mills creating value and therefore an incentive to better manage forests. On average, Europe’s forest area has risen by 834,499 ha (0.08%) per year since 1993. This is equivalent to an additional 1.3 million (approx.) football pitches of forest in Europe per year – 17 million ha additional forest in the last 20 years.
3. Wood pellet boilers are dirty and inefficient
Surprisingly to some biomass boilers being installed in the UK are much more efficient and sophisticated than their fossil fuel equivalents. Most top brands, including our ETA biomass and Kohlbach biomass boilers, have flue gas analysis as standard which can automatically adjust air flow in the combustion chamber to ensure efficiency levels of up to 95%. Traditional oil boilers, which are the key target market for wood pellet boilers to replace have efficiency levels of 75% when new and much lower as they age, so that by the time they get to 10-15 years old they might be only 50% efficient, meaning that 50p in every £1 spent on fuel goes up the flue rather than heating the home.
4. Renewables should exist without being subsidised
Many observers forget that all electricity and natural gas networks in the UK where originally funded with taxpayer’s money and even after privatisation they continue to be subsidised through regulatory bodies to ensure their upkeep and existence. Most recently, the energy “strike price” agreed for the Hinkley Point Nuclear power plant was forecasted to cost UK consumers £29.7billion on its own. The Renewable Heat Incentive was created to stimulate the use of renewables and with over 65,000 applicants has been successful doing so all within strictly capped budgets.
As the market leaders in biomass heating with more than 200 partner companies working with us to successfully install biomass boilers around the UK and Ireland you can imagine our frustration reading such an article. As with everything at Innasol, we’re proud of what we help to achieve, install and maintain every day. We’re also constantly improving our offering, always searching for the best in renewable energy and most efficient power solutions, for our customers, our partners, and the planet.
You can read the full Chatham House report here.
We aren’t the only industry stakeholders who are baffled by this report. The Renewable Energy Association (REA) have come with a strong response to the article – read their thoughts here.