REN21 report shows increased use of biomass in heat, power

By Erin Voegele | June 14, 2016

REN21 recently published its annual overview on the state of renewable energy, reporting 2015 was a record year for renewable energy installations. Renewable power and renewable heat both increased, along with renewables used in transportation.

According to the report, titled the “Renewables 2016 Global Status Report,” 173 countries had renewable energy targets in place as of early 2016. In addition, 146 countries had support policies in place. The report also stresses that renewables have been shown to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels in many markets. 

 “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies,” said Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21. “For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

In addition to being a record year for new installations, the report indicates 2015 was also a record year for investment, reaching $286 billion worldwide in renewable power and fuels. China accounted for more than one-third of the global total. In addition, developing countries surpassed developed countries in total renewable energy investments for the first time.

According to the report, bioenergy contributes more to primary global energy supply than any other renewable energy source. Total energy demand supplied from biomass last year was approximately 60 exajoules (EJ). The report also notes that the use of biomass for energy has been growing at approximately 2 percent per year since 2010, but that the bioenergy share in total global primary energy consumption was remained relatively steady since 2010, at approximately 10 percent.

Modern bioenergy applications provide approximately 14.4 EJ of heat last year, with 8.4 EJ of that output for industrial uses and 6.3 EJ for residential and commercial uses. The report states modern biomass heat capacity increased by an estimated 10 GWth in 2015, reaching 315 GWth.

The REN21 report notes bioenergy accounts for approximately 10 percent of industrial heat consumption, and its use in industry has been growing by about 1.3 percent annually over the past 15 years. This increase is primarily attributed to the use of solid biomass. According to the report, Asia and South America, particularly Brazil, are the largest users of biomass for industrial heat, followed by North America. Use in North America, however, is declining due to changes in the structure of the forestry and paper industries.

In the buildings sector, the report states the U.S., Germany, France, Sweden, Italy and Finland are the largest consumers of modern biomass for heat. Europe, primarily Italy, Germany, Sweden and France, also represented the largest market for wood pellet heating last year.

Countries in the Baltic and Eastern European regions have also increased the use of biomass heating. The report notes that Lithuania derived 61 percent of its district heating from local forestry residues last year. The country’s biomass-based heat capacity also tripped between 2011 and 2015, reaching 1,530 MWth.

In the U.S., 2.5 million households used woodfuel as a primary heating fuel in 2014, with an additional 9 million homes using it as a secondary heating fuel. In China, the report states 6 million tons of biomass pellets with a combined energy content of 96 petajoules (TJ) were produced and used last year.

Regarding biogas, the report shows Asia leads the world in the use of small-scale digesters to produce gas for cooking and space heating. More than 100 million people in rural China and 4.83 million people in India have access to digester gas.

The use of biomass for power also increased last year. According to the report, biopower capacity increased 5 percent in 2015, reaching 106.4 GW. Generation also increased by 8 percent, reaching 646 TWh. The U.S. generated 69 TWh from biomass last year, followed by Germany at 50 TWh, China at 48 TWh, Brazil at 40 TWh and Japan at 36 TWh.

U.S. biopower capacity increased by an estimated 4 percent last year, reaching 16.7 GW. Generation from biomass sources, however, was near 2014 levels of 69.3 TWh. Biopower capacity remained constant in Germany at 7.1 GW. Capacity increased 12 percent in the U.K., with generation up 27 percent, largely due to conversion activities at Drax. The U.K.’s biogas market also increased last year, with the fastest growth of any European Country.

In China, biopower capacity was up 0.8 GW, reaching 10.3 GW. Generation increased 16 percent when compared to 2014, reaching 36 TWh. The growing market is largely attributed to imported fuels, including wood pellets from Canada and wood chips and palm kernel shells. India on-grid biomass capacity increased 144 MW, reaching 4.67 GW, while off-grid capacity increased 18.9 MW, reaching 927 MW. Brazil capacity increased 250 MW from 2013 to 2015, reaching 9.7 GW.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the REN21 website