Will the government’s drive for renewable power result in a vast increase in the country’s demand for wood – and if it does, what will that mean for plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Last week an unlikely alliance formed of green NGOs and the paper, timber and furniture industries came together to warn against the government’s ” reckless” plans to generate more energy from burning wood. The group says that by 2017 the country could be burning thirty million tonnes of biomass, most of which will be wood. That’s about six times the entire UK wood harvest in 2011.
This is disputed by DECC and the biomass industry, who say the figure is lower – but in a way, the exact amount doesn’t matter, because the UK is likely to be burning a lot more wood for power in the near future.
Government proposals to generate more power from bioenergy – burning plants, trees and crops – aren’t as well known as its plans for other renewables like wind power.
But in terms of the amount of energy produced, bioenergy could soon be the most significant source of renewable fuel. The government aims to increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewables to 15 per cent by 2020. And about two thirds of that is slated to come from bioenergy.
Burning how much wood?
How much wood and agricultural products will this require? Green NGOs say the answer is ‘a lot’. They predict that by 2017 the country will be burning 30 million tonnes of biomass – equivalent to about six times the UK’s 2011 wood harvest. While not all of this will come from wood, they say most of it will.
The RSPB told us the estimate is based on a DECC review of its main subsidy for renewable power, the Renewables Obligation.
A table in the review appears to indicate that the country could be generating 5,038 megawatts (MW) of energy from biomass by 2017.
A separate government report released in 2010 suggests it takes 6,000 oven dried tonnes (odt) of wood to produce one megawatt (MW) of energy. So if all of this were to come from wood – (the green groups are clear that it won’t) – by multiplying these together the UK would be burning 30.2 million tonnes of dried wood by 2017.
Screen Shot 2013-05-03 At 14.32.03 Source: Renewables Obligation Impact Assessment, DECC 2012. The sum is reached by totalling total deployment in 2012/13 and new build, for biomass conversion and co-firing, dedicated biomass >50MW and dedicated biomass <50MW.
Plans to massively expand wood burning lead to concerns about sustainability