Danish government: biomass, wind, contenders for renewable goals

By Anna Simet | June 04, 2014

The Danish Energy Agency has released a report that concludes it is technically possible the country could become fossil fuel independent by 2050, as well as reach the government’s goal of fossil fuel independent electricity and heating by 2035.

The paper, Energy Scenarios for 2020, 2035 and 2050, examines four different renewable technical scenarios—wind, biomass, bio+ (fuel-based system similar to what Denmark currently has, but coal, oil and natural gas are replaced by bioenergy and hydrogen), as well as a fossil fuel scenario.  It determines that shortly after 2020, it will be necessary for the country to decide whether the future energy system will be an electricity-based wind-power system or a fuel-based biomass system.

The report recognizes that both a wind and biomass system has definite benefits and challenges. A wind-based fully electrified system will have good fuel supply security, but will be challenged in terms of wind’s intermittency, and security of electricity supply. On the other hand, a bioenergy-based system will require large imports of biomass and it will be challenged in terms of fuel supply security and sustainability.

In a specific analysis of biomass use, the report says that biomass, which is expected to account for 35 percent of overall energy production by 2020, increasing from 231 petajoules (PJ) in 2012 to 166 PJ in 2020, will increase to anywhere from 200 and 700 PJ by 2050.

Using biomass, including forest thinnings, logging residuals, straw, manure and other projects will result in low greenhouse gas emissions over a 20 to 100-year period, according to a lifecycle analysis performed by the Danish Energy Agency. The report emphasizes that this is only the case, until after a 100-year period, if existing forests, productive soils or high-carbon savannahs are not converted to bioenergy plantations or planted with other crops for energy or transport.

There will be sustainability challenges as global and Denmark’s biomass use increases, the analysis points out. While Denmark will be able to purchase wood pellets and chips exported from other countries, it could be pushed into purchasing buying wood products that aren’t sustainability produced. If bioenergy from agricultural residue and organic household waste also increases, that and other supply challenges could be mitigated, it suggests.

With regard to the security of fuel supply, a consumption level above 200 PJ of biomass will increase the dependency upon imported biomass, the analysis concludes. “As there are many potential biomass suppliers, this may not be a problem for the security of supply, but it will increase sensitivity to higher biomass prices. On the other hand, scenarios with less consumption of biomass will be challenged in terms of ensuring a reliable electricity supply, due to the expected increase in the use of wind power…With regard to energy efficiency, a key point is that a limited use of biomass will ensure a high security of supply and low climate-related risks, which highlights the importance of a high level of efficiency in the exploitation of biomass in the future energy and transport system.”