Bioenergy is the workhorse of EU renewable energy contributing over 60% to the current level of renewables in the EU. This week the European Commission launched a consultation on sustainable bioenergy policy so let’s have a quick look at the current bioenergy landscape.
Figure 1: Renewable Energy in Europe (Data sourced from Eurostat)+
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sets a binding target of 20% gross final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. To achieve this, the Directive allocates individual targets to Member States ranging from 10% in Malta to 49% in Sweden. Each Member State is also required to have at least 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020. It is anticipated that liquid biofuels in road transport will make the largest contribution to the 10% RES-T target. Progress on the 10% RES-T target has been challenging, reaching just under 6% in 2014 with a number of Member States expected not to meet their RES-T targets. A review I did with colleagues from the Insight_E think tank on this issue can be found here.
Under the RED (Article 17 in EC, 2009), only biofuels that comply with selected criteria can receive government support or count towards national renewable energy targets. These criteria specify that biofuels must achieve greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% in comparison to fossil fuels. This savings requirement rises to 50% in 2017. In 2018, it rises again to 60% but only for new production plants.
It is probably fair to say that bioenergy policy has been one of the most volatile policy areas in the EU to date. Uncertainty in regulation has been a contributing factor to the slow progress toward the RES-T target, particularly around the thorny issue of indirect land use change (ILUC). The issue of indirect land use change is complicated and yet to be fully resolved. It stems from the fact that when biomass for bioenergy is produced on existing productive land, the demand for the commodity originally produced on the land remains, and may lead to someone producing more commodities somewhere else. This can imply land use change which could result in more emissions. ILUC cannot be measured, it can only be modelled – to see for yourself how complicated it is, have a look the calculator DECC in the UK released for calculating the life system impact of biomass from electricity.
In April 2015, the European Parliament approved the reform of the RED, which includes a 7% cap on food crop-based biofuels for the transport sector and only included indirect land use change factors for reporting purposes. Other elements of the reform include:
- Member States should have an indicative target of 0.5% for advance biofuels
- A multiplication factor of 5 for electricity from renewable sources in electric road vehicles and of 2.5 for electrified rail transport
- ILUC reporting on GHG savings from the use of biofuels will be carried out by the EC
Finally in terms of resource and potential: A very detailed review of the EU’s extensive bioenergy potential was released last month from the JRC. The study details available feedstock’s from agriculture, waste and forestry under a 2020 reference scenario, and estimates that approximately 280 Mtoe (1,190 PJ) of bioenergy potential may be technically available.
Figure 2: 2020 Total Bioenergy Potential in a reference case scenario. Data from JRC report
Figure 3: 2020 Total Bioenergy Potential in a reference case scenario as % of 2013 Gross Inland Consumption (GIC). Data from JRC report and Eurostat
I have pulled the data from the report and mapped it to show the total potential in absolute terms and also as a percentage of Gross inland consumption (GIC) of energy. Note that I am showing the 2020 potential as a % of GIC from 2013…so it is not entirely accurate but gives the resource some context
The JRC work emphasises the strong impact sustainability criteria has on future potential, particularly for wood potential which can reduce by around 40% or increase by 100% by 2050, depending on the criteria. Estimated costs for each feedstock under a number of scenarios out to the year 2050 is also presented in detail in the report.
Bioenergy has an incredibly important role to play in the decarbonisation of the EU energy system. The current consultation offers an important opportunity to share your views on the role of this resource in our future. The consultation runs from 10 February 2016 to 10 May 2016.
Thanks to Eamonn Mulholland for edits.
 Advanced Biofuels are those produced from lignocellulosic feedstocks (i.e. agricultural and forestry residues, non-food crops (i.e. grasses, miscanthus, algae), or industrial waste and residue streams.
+ Energy statistics and energy balances available from Eurostat (as well as at international level from OECD/IEA) do not distinguish between sustainable and non-sustainable renewable sources of energy