EU 27 wood consumption for biomass power to grow 65% to 573 million m3/year by 2020; Finland's limited hydro, wind, solar options means forest biomass important for country to raise share of renewable energy from current 28% to 38% by 2020, report says

VANTAA, Finland , June 16, 2011 (press release) – The European Union has resolved to reduce the effects of climate change and to establish a common energy policy. As part of this policy, the European heads of state or government agreed on certain binding targets for 2020: to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels to 20 per cent below 1990 levels, to reduce energy consump­tion by 20 per cent, and to increase the share of renewable energy in the EU’s final energy consumption by 20 per cent.

Increasing the proportion of renewable energy depends on finding ways to reduce total energy consumption and to increase the production and use of sustainably produced renewable energy in electricity, heating and cooling, and transport by 2020.

The EU 27 countries have set ambitious targets for increasing the share of renewable energy in their total energy use by 2020 – e.g., to 49 per cent in Sweden and to 38 per cent in Finland. Most of the EU 27 have already taken steps to increase their use of wood-based energy, hydropower, and wind energy in relation to their total energy consumption, over the past decade. In 2008, renewable energy resources in the EU 27 accounted for about 10 per cent of total energy consumption, of which wood-based fuels accounted for 50 per cent (pdf).

Nevertheless, the share of wood-based fuels in total energy consumption varies greatly across the Member States – in 2005, ranging from 35 per cent down to one per cent (pdf). The figure depends in part on the availability of wood resources in each country. Among decision-makers, this raises the question of how much wood-based biomass will be available in EU 27 forests in the future: enough to increase the share of wood-based fuels in total energy consumption?

The latest European study, EUwood (pdf), estimated the total mobilisable woody biomass potential (for wood materials and for energy) from forests in 2010 to be 620 million cubic metres of stemwood plus an additional 120 million cubic metres of branches, stumps, and small trees from early thinnings.

‘The estimated stemwood volume accounts for less than three per cent of the total growing stock in the EU 27. Because of environmental, technical, and social constraints, the estimated proportion for crown and stump biomass is still considerably lower than that for stemwood.’ says Dr Perttu Anttila, a senior researcher at Metla and a participant in the EUwood study. ‘By 2020, the mobilisable wood biomass potential from forests in the EU 27 will be 630–900 million cubic metres per year, depending on how favourable the attitude toward wood mobilisation is at that time,’ he says.

The growing demand for wood-based energy and the emergence of markets for energy wood will tighten the competition for wood by 2020 in the EU 27. The challenge will be to establish a balance among the use of wood for pulp and paper production, for mechanical wood products, and for energy.

According to EUwood, wood consumption for energy generation is expected to rise in the EU 27 from the present 346 million cubic metres to 573 million cubic metres per year by 2020.

‘According to the EUwood results, the use of wood for wood products and for energy will increase significantly, from nearly 800 million cubic metres to about 1,100 million cubic metres per year by 2020. The demand for wood-based biomass for energy will exceed that for wood products before 2020. Two thirds of the woody biomass is expected to come from forests and the rest from industrial residues, landscape care wood, woody biomass from other wooded land, and post-consumer wood,’ says Anttila.

In Finland, because of geographical location, the possibilities of increased hydropower and solar power or wind energy are very limited. Therefore, forest biomass will be an important source for raising the share of renewable energy from the current 28 per cent (one fourth of Finland’s power generation) to 38 per cent by 2020.

Wood-based fuels accounted for 20 per cent (link) of Finland’s total energy consumption in 2009. Increasing this percentage depends on many factors, including the development of the Finnish forest industry, which is the main source of wood-based energy. It obtains wood-based fuels in connection with procurement of raw materials or as a by-product of wood processing.

Secondly, there is the need to find ways to reduce the total energy consumption and to increase the use of sustainable and cost-efficiently produced wood-based energy.

Also, the general development of renewable energy technology and its commercialisation are important factors here. ‘Metla has strong expertise in forests and the supply of woody biomass. Our research can help in finding solutions to challenges related to, for example, costs of wood harvesting and sustainability’ says Anttila.

The importance of wood-based energy in reaching the EU’s legislated ‘202020’ targets has been recognised by political decision-makers in Finland. The Finnish government’s ministerial working group for climate and energy policy have agreed on the contents of a package of obligations concerning renewable energy. This targets an increase in renewables-based energy production in proportion to total energy consumption by 2020. For instance, the use of forest chips is supposed to increase to 13.5 million cubic metres per year by 2020.

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