Sunday, April 7, 2013

Biomass: The hidden member of the "renewable" family gets some exposure

Biomass has always been the member of the renewables family that the other members of the family seldom mention in public.
Bjørn Lomborg posted to Facebook an introduction to this illuminating article:

The Fuel of the Future | The Economist
WHICH source of renewable energy is most important to the European Union? Solar power, perhaps? (Europe has three-quarters of the world’s total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy.) Or wind? (Germany trebled its wind-power capacity in the past decade.) The answer is neither. By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.
In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption. In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable-energy demand. Even in Germany, home of the Energiewende (energy transformation) which has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power, 38% of non-fossil fuel consumption comes from the stuff. After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon energy revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favoured fuel of pre-industrial societies.
Continue reading at the Economist 

Points from the article:
  • ...because wood can be used in coal-fired power stations that might otherwise have been shut down under new environmental standards, it is extremely popular with power companies.
  • The EU wants to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020; it would miss this target by a country mile if it relied on solar and wind alone.
  • Imports of wood pellets into the EU rose by 50% in 2010 alone and global trade in them ... could rise five- or sixfold from ... by 2020,... Much of that will come from a new wood-exporting business that is booming in western Canada and the American south
  • Prices for hardwood from western Canada have risen by about 60% since the end of 2011.
  • Wood produces carbon twice over: once in the power station, once in the supply chain... 200kg of CO2 for the amount of wood needed to provide 1MWh of electricity.
  • In short, the EU has created a subsidy which costs a packet, probably does not reduce carbon emissions, does not encourage new energy technologies—and is set to grow like a leylandii hedge.

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