BIOMASS will be critical if the UK is to reach its 2020 renewable energy target but imports may be necessary because supplies at home will remain insufficient a study has found.
And according to the latest analysis by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment on the impacts of the UK’s renewable energy policy, the increase in imports could in itself have a carbon impact and push up demand, and potentially price, for biomass. Even assuming an optimistic scenario for biofuels production, the report highlights that a primary energy supply of around 37 GW will require approximately 80 million tonnes of biomass a year.
“The opportunities for domestic biomass in the UK are very limited at this scale,” said co-author David Ward. “If we were to increase production up to 80 million tonnes of plant-based biomass we would require approximately all of the present UK arable land to be diverted to that use. That would be impractical and the majority of this biomass would have to be imported, in much the same way that the majority of our coal is today.”
Although the report recognises that the use of biomass as an energy resource has the potential to contribute to renewal energy supplies, it highlights that supporting policies have to be set out “with great care” to minimise the risk of adverse effects. “The impact of energy policy in one country on global markets can be substantial.”
The 2020 renewables targets for the UK imply the need for a large increase in international trade in biomass and correspondingly in the international transport of fuels. An increased demand for biomass energy has in the past led to deforestation and is likely to affect the cost of biomass and potentially price out of the market those who rely on it as their only energy source, the report warns. In addition, there may be strong local impacts to energy, transport infrastructure and the location of industrial consumers.
“There is a pressing need for synchronisation of policies across the economy as a whole rather than in individual areas,” added co-author Oliver Inderwildi. “This time we have to get the policy right straight away to ensure that energy policies do not trigger devastating effects elsewhere.”