Wood pellet next to bark and wood rounds

Linda Taylor, Group Marketing Director, AMP Clean Energy

2018 was quite a challenging year for biomass. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy threatened to tarnish the reputation of the technology, and question marks raised around how ‘green’ biomass is and controversy over ‘wet wood’ have all served to further muddy the waters.

However, two important reports released last year, forecast a positive outlook for the future potential of bioenergy. The Climate Change Committee estimated that bioenergy’s total contribution to UK total energy could more than double by 2050. And the IEA Technology Roadmap report said that modern bioenergy is an essential component of the future low carbon global energy system if global climate change commitments are to be met. However, it also stated that current uptake of bioenergy was far too low to achieve this.

And 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for biomass with the industry and renewables lobby coming together to fight its corner. This week the Renewable Energy Association announced that rather than wait any longer for the Government’s long overdue Bioenergy Review, it was launching its own far-reaching Bioenergy Strategy. And for the first time this year, the two big biomass industry bodies, the Wood Heat Association and the UK Wood Pellet Council, will join forces to host a joint conference in March as they look to work more closely together in the future.

At a personal level, I have attended a number of cross industry and lobby group meetings this month already, and really feel there is a distinct change in the air. As the Government looks to find the answers to the growing issue of heat decarbonisation, biomass is waiting in the wings – a proven world-renowned technology which could help us deliver on our renewable heat targets. Across Europe we have seen countless examples of biomass being deployed at scale to help countries meet, and even exceed heat targets. Of course, the industry needs the financial incentives and policy framework in place to replicate the success of our European counterparts.

The main challenge facing biomass is that the current financial incentive, the RHI, will close to new entrants in 2021, and the uncertainty this is creating could have negative repercussions throughout the industry and its supply chain. The other legislative challenge is the current review BEIS is undertaking into stopping RHI support for new biomass projects in urban areas. We have made our concerns clear to BEIS that to do so will restrict the ability of industrials to make the switch from fossil fuels, subsequently also limiting our ability to decarbonise heat.

Whilst biomass still faces a number of challenges, it is heartening to see all those with a stake in the biomass market come together to provide a clear industry voice. It is going to be a bumpy ride, but I believe there has never been a better time to make the case for biomass and ensure it fulfils its rightful role in the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy.