UK issues tough biomass standards & promises no changes until 2027

Date: 30/08/2013

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has released sustainability requirements for power generation using biomass that it says will provide clear targets and investor stability through 2027.

The policy, “Increasing the Use of Low-Carbon Technologies,” is focused on increasing the amount of energy the UK gets from low-carbon technologies such as renewables and nuclear, and reducing emissions through carbon capture and storage (CCS). The DECC notes that the general objectives of the policy are to:

– make sure the UK has a secure supply of energy,
– reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow down climate change and

– stimulate investment in new jobs and businesses.
With regard to biomass, the policy requires that biomass electricity will have to show over 70 per cent greenhouse gas savings compared to fossil fuel alternatives, under changes made by the government to ensure the sustainability of wood-fuel used to create energy. The requirements do not address the production of useful thermal energy.

From April 2015, the biomass industry – which is worth over £1bn in new investment and supports over 3,000 jobs – will be required to demonstrate their fuel is sustainable or lose financial support.

The tough new criteria for sustainable forest management are based on a range of issues such as:

– sustainable harvesting rates,
– biodiversity protection and
– land use rights for indigenous populations.

Organizations that do not comply with the new requirements could see financial support withheld.

All generators of 1 megawatt (MW) capacity or more using solid biomass or biogas feedstock will be required to demonstrate that they are meeting the criteria in order to claim support under the Renewables Obligation. This would cover around 98 per cent of all biomass power generation in the UK.

DECC adds that they are also introducing a new requirement for generators of 1 MW capacity and above to provide an independent sustainability audit with their annual sustainability report. They added that the announcement will help bring forward transitional biomass technologies such as coal to biomass conversions, which they see as one of the quickest and most cost effective ways to help decarbonize the UK’s electricity supply.

Finally, to provide the certainty that investors and developers need, DECC says there will be no further unilateral changes to the sustainability criteria before April 2027. The department added the following points as background to the new guidelines:

By 2020 biomass generators of 1 MW and above will have to meet a 200 kg CO2eq per MWh annual target (72% saving compared to the EU fossil fuel electricity average). This reduces further to a 180 kg CO2eq per MWh from 2025 (75% saving compared to the EU fossil fuel electricity average). A threshold of 1 MW and above covers around 98% of biomass power generation.

The other 2% (those with a capacity between 50 kW and 1 MW) will be required to report against the criteria, but not to comply with it. Microgeneration (under 50 kW) are not included in the scope.

Biomass is expected to make a significant contribution to delivering the UK’s 2020 renewable energy target. Around 38% of our renewable electricity comes from bioenergy.

Sustainable forest management criteria will be based on the Government’s UK Timber Procurement Policy Principles.

Mandatory sustainability criteria have already been introduced to the Renewables Obligation (RO) for bioliquids as required by the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

We have introduced a cap of 400 MW on the total new-build dedicated biomass capacity (excludes biomass with CHP and coal to biomass conversions) that can expect grandfathered support under the RO. We are using a notification process to allocate places within the cap. This is now open for applications for priority projects (that reached financial close by 20 August). Other projects will be able to apply from 11 September onwards.