Renew On Line (UK) 51

Extracts from NATTA's journal
, issue 151 Sept-Oct 2004

   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1.Wind power- problems  offshore, new co-op

2.Photovoltaic solar - mandatory soon?

3.Funding Wave & Tidal Energy- £50m more

4. Biomass Heat Gap- RCEP report

5. Hydrogen Arrives- on the farm

6. New Energy Policy ? Yes please!

7. UK Energy Research Centre- soon

8.UK Government policy news- Energy Bill Passes but targets cut

9. European news- Bonn was good, Denmark gets better

10. US News- Local wind problems, hydrogen plans

11 Other International news- 40GW of wind now in place.... 

12.   Nuclear news'EU needs nuclear'

4. Biomass Heat Gap

In its major new report ‘Biomass as a Renewable Energy Source’, the influential Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) claims that heat from biomass is the ‘missing link in Renewables policy’  and that so far government policy has not succeeded in developing this resource.  In its earlier report ‘Energy- the Changing Climate’, which called for a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, the Commission suggested that biomass could provide up to 12% of UK energy- with 16GW of energy conversion capacity in place by 2050, but so far progress has been very slow. 

Launching the new report in May,  Sir Tom Blundell, the RCEP’s Chair, said “The use of biomass energy has benefits not only for climate change but also offers new opportunities for UK agriculture and forestry and increases the security of the UK’s energy supply. The government has recognised this and has attempted to stimulate the sector through a range of policies, but the policies so far have failed to integrate the supply chain and support viable technologies. I am disappointed that energy from biomass has not developed as quickly in the UK as elsewhere in Europe. Biomass energy could make a vital contribution to the UK’s targets for combating climate change, but is failing to develop under fractured and misdirected government policies for this important energy source. Our recommendations are directed at remedying this.”

The Commission notes that biomass differs from other renewable energy sources in two important respects: it is controllable and it can provide heat as well as electricity.  and adds “Changing government policy to encourage the use of biomass fuels for both heat and power could provide the impetus that the sector needs”. Provocatively it calculates that the 16GW target could require up to 7m hectares of land- about 40% of UK agricultural land- although it settles for 5.5m ha. 


    • To get things moving the report calls for:
    • A new renewable heat obligation to encourage the generation of heat rather than just electricity.
    • A new government/industry biomass forum.
    • Biomass fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP) in all new-build developments.

The RCEP say ‘there are significant existing resources of biomass in the UK that could be exploited for immediate progress on carbon dioxide reduction. Use of these resources would offer additional income streams for farmers and foresters and initiate the development of an infrastructure for biomass supply. Co-firing with wood in existing power stations could be a useful step in the development of the sector, but even here ill-designed policies have inhibited the use of biomass.’

In the longer term, it says that ‘the use of biomass for energy would depend largely on the production of energy crops (such as willow). This would require a significant change in agricultural land-use by 2050, and the Royal Commission recommends approaching this change in four distinct stages that provide opportunities for periodic assessment of the environmental impacts, the social acceptability and the economic viability of biomass utilisation. Following this approach, biomass could provide 10–15% of the UK’s energy by 2050.’

It adds ‘Biomass conversion technologies are adaptable; the scale, type of fuel and heat to power output ratio can all be varied according to local supply and demand. Distributed generation offers opportunities to engage local communities and to develop a sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, localised energy production.’

Green Heat

The Commission notes that heating systems using biomass ‘are common elsewhere in Europe and serve as  positive examples of integrated development that we need to see here. Our report calls for government support to exploit biomass’s value as a source of both heat and power. The introduction of a ‘green heat’ credit would help to raise the profile and profitability of schemes that use biomass. Use of biomass for heat or co-generation of heat and power (CHP) would also encourage better efficiency in energy generation (from typically 30% to 80%), and increase the CO2 savings of the UK energy sector. Failing to recognise the value of renewable heat, and dividing responsibility between government departments with resultant inconsistencies in policy, are hindering the development of a sector vital to the government’s climate change strategy.’

The Commission says that  it was ‘encouraged by the release of The Government’s Strategy for Combined Heat and Power to 2010, but our report recommends that the government take things even further. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Sustainable Communities programme will require the construction of almost 1.2 million new homes by 2016. The Sustainable Communities programme cannot be truly sustainable without some degree of renewable energy supply.  Biomass could be a part of this if sufficient material is available (e.g. from existing parks and woodlands) or if the water and land availability for energy crop growth and other environmental factors are favourable. In our view, if the ODPM programme goes ahead the use of sustainable energy production should be an integral part of the design.  In the UK, there are already substantial resources in the form of agricultural residues, forestry materials and municipal arisings (park and tree cuttings) as well as dedicated energy crops. The failure to realise the potential of these resources is due to a lack of effective, co-ordinated government policy to establish investor and farmer security and to develop the supply chain.’

Action Required

At the launch of the report in May, Sir Tom Blundell said: “The government is missing out on an opportunity for cross-departmental policies to have a real, long term impact on climate change. At the Climate Group launch earlier this month, Tony Blair highlighted the importance of climate change policy during the British chairmanship of the G8 next year. This will be impossible in our current position- some ten years behind other Northern European countries. If Britain is to take the lead on climate change, renewables policy must be reviewed immediately.”

The Commissions press release says that ‘one of the first steps in developing the biomass sector would be to establish a government/industry forum to encourage the sharing of ideas and expertise and to provide support to early-stage projects. This forum should be open to all stakeholders including farmers, construction companies, local councils, power generators and environmental  NGOs.’

It concludes ‘Biomass energy and heat should be supported by the introduction of renewable credits for heat as well as electricity and by positive planning regulations. Biomass energy should be favoured in all new-build and retrofit projects. The assumption should be in favour of biomass energy in all projects; construction companies and councils should have to justify any decision not to adopt this option.’  It also called for ‘rigorous monitoring of impacts, with detailed assessments of social and environmental  consequences at each stage’.    Full review in Renew 152.

* The report can be accessed at Note that it deals with biomass for heat and power- not biofuels for vehicles.

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