ETI report provides outlook on meeting UK climate change targets

By Katie Fletcher | October 16, 2015

A recent report released by the Energy Technologies Institute states that biomass combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) remains the only credible route to deliver negative emissions to help meet the U.K.’s 2050 climate change targets.

The insight report “Enabling U.K. Biomass” states, using sustainable biomass as a source of energy could reduce the cost of meeting the U.K.’s 2050 carbon targets by more than 1 percent of GDP helping to make low carbon energy more affordable for consumers and businesses.

Two other points highlighted include that the U.K. can produce its own domestic biomass for secure, affordable and low carbon energy, but agricultural and energy policies need to be joined up, and the high value of bioenergy lies in its versatility to provide energy for a mix of low carbon heat, power, gas and liquid transport fuels.

The report provides an outlook for future business models and the policy and market challenges that need to be overcome when scaling up U.K. biomass production to complement imported biomass.

“Many future scenarios for the U.K. energy system suggest that bioenergy could play a crucial role in meeting our greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets by 2050, but there are important questions around whether the U.K. sector can rely predominantly on imported feedstocks or if there is a significant role for domestic production too,” said George Day, head of economic strategy at ETI and the report’s author. “This report seeks to initiate a constructive dialogue amongst those who seek to influence, inform or make policy in this area. It sets out the case for a proactive policy to incentivize development of a sustainable U.K. biomass production capability to complement imported biomass.”

He continues to say that farmers in the U.K. need support to grow biomass. “At the ETI we believe there is a strong case for joining up agricultural, land use and energy policies in ways that support domestic biomass production, both to increase land use productivity and to enable us to meet carbon targets affordably," Day said.

The report begins by reiterating how valuable bioenergy is to a low carbon U.K. According to the insight report, “Bioenergy combined with CCS could deliver more than 50 million metric tons of CO2 negative emissions per year by 2050.”

Sustainable biomass—both grown in the U.K. and imported—can provide up to 10 percent of the U.K.’s primary energy needs by 2050.

The ETI analysis draws attention to the potential for expanding U.K. domestic capability to produce sustainable biomass—mainly through perennial energy crops and short-rotation forestry—as a hugely valuable strategic opportunity.

In 2013, over 50,000 hectares (123,552 acres) of U.K. agricultural land were used for bioenergy—comprising 8,000 hectares of oilseed rape, 8,000 hectares of sugar beet, 26,000 hectares of wheat, 7,000 hectares of miscanthus and 3,000 hectares of short rotation coppice. More than 80 percent of this domestic feedstock is currently destined for biofuel production (biodiesel and bioethanol) for U.K. road transport markets. The report states that achieving ETI’s scenarios by 2030 would require both a focus on second generation feedstocks for use in more strategically valuable bioenergy value chains and an estimated 85-fold increase on the current area of second generation bioenergy cropping.

The report spent time going through some of the challenges for scaling up U.K. biomass production. Building from the low starting base described above is one. Another challenge is attributed to making biomass for energy commercially attractive with uncertain rewards for carbon benefits through various policy incentives like Contracts for Difference (CfD) and the Renewable Heat Incentive.  

The report provides an analysis of whether the U.K. can afford policy support. The analysis set briefly considers the scale of some existing policy support and compares these against the potential costs of promoting U.K. biomass under some assumptions. For example, annual cost of support under CfD for 1 gigawatt (GW) of biomass electricity (e.g. Drax conversion) would be approximately £295 million ($456 million) based on a strike price of £105 per megawatt hour (MWh), a projected wholesale price of £62 per MWh and a load factor of 0.8.

Ultimately, the analysis concludes, with focused policies, the U.K. has credible routes to produce around 10 percent of its primary energy needs from sustainable domestic and imported biomass; while also capturing carbon, and supporting rural incomes and economies. Early ETI analysis of the potential costs of policy support suggest that it is both affordable and can deliver good value for money.

The ETI’s latest insight into bioenergy follows one earlier this year, which highlighted that bioenergy has the potential to help secure U.K. energy supplies, mitigate climate change and create significant green growth opportunities if deployed effectively.

The full “Enabling U.K. Biomass” insight report can be found here.