On 4 February, CPL launched their paper ‘Biomass Heat in the UK beyond 2020’ at an event hosted in the House of Commons by the All Party Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Intelligent Energy.
The event was chaired by Conservative Peter Aldous MP with speakers Tim Minett, Chief Executive, CPL Renewables; Labour’s Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Chair, PRASEG; Gerry Newton-Cross, Bioenergy Strategy Manager, Energy Technologies Institute and Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist, Greenpeace UK. Each speaker was given ten minutes to share their views before the floor was opened to questions. Over 40 people attended to witness and partake in what was sure to be a lively debate.
Tim opened by presenting the findings of the paper, arguing that biomass heating has numerous suitable applications in a post 2020 energy system but policy is not providing the signal necessary to encourage appropriate investment. To one extent or another, the other speakers agreed with this message, though of course their agreement was subject to their own terms and conditions.
Unsurprisingly, Doug Parr was keen to focus on the sustainability issues – the topic that gathered perhaps the most discussion of the evening. He urged the bioheat industry not to follow the example of the biofuels sector a few years prior, where unsustainable practices fed a controversial ‘food vs fuel’ debate. While he argued the biomass heating industry is often intrinsically more local than biofuels, with shorter supply chains and clearer accountability, he was not yet convinced that current policies were sufficient to tackle wide reaching sustainability concerns including indirect land use change. Nevertheless with scepticism over the pace of the roll out of heat pumps and the decarbonisation of the grid, Dr Parr suggested it is likely that (genuinely sustainable) biomass heat will make a sensible contribution towards carbon reduction post 2020. Alan Whitehead shared this view; he suggested that biomass heating will be appropriate as long as we continue to invest in fossil fuel power generation.
Getting the feedstock type right was generally agreed to be the most important factor in delivering sustainable biomass. Alan Whitehead’s opening remarks stressed the need for utilising wastes and residues; a tactic universally seen as a low risk pathway. However, the ever controversial topic of energy crops was brought up by the audience. The response from speakers was not as black and white as some may have anticipated, with agreement that if grown on truly marginal land, they are not inherently dangerous or unsustainable.
The role for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in combination with biomass to produce ‘negative emissions’ drew significant interest from fellow speakers and the audience following Gerry Newton-Cross’s suggestion that this power (with CHP where appropriate) with CCS is the best use for a sparse resource in the long-term. Doug Parr was more sceptical, commenting that CCS has been “about ten years away” for at least ten years, though Gerry argued this could offset emissions from sectors where decarbonisation is more difficult.
Perhaps disappointingly for some, there were no heated clashes of polar opposite stances. Instead, in their closing remarks the speakers agreed that sustainable biomass is likely to be a suitable heating solution beyond 2020. What is needed, suggested Peter Aldous, is a policy framework which will help to develop the sustainable supply chains.
James Higgins, Ecuity