From Enviva, a leading global renewable energy company specializing in sustainable wood bioenergy.
By Jens Wolf, Vice President and General Manager of Europe, Enviva.
Over the last year, COVID-19 has had a vast impact on almost every industry, including the energy sector. The pandemic affected everything from the price of crude oil and the cost at the pump, to how we use electricity in our daily lives and how we think about future investments in energy infrastructure. Interestingly, one unique trend specific to energy was that energy production and distribution remained essential regardless of the pandemic and we saw an increased global interest in and commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
The world is pivoting to green energy. Over the last decade, there has been a large increase in the demand for wood bioenergy, and it has only accelerated in the last 14 months. In fact, the use of bioenergy has more than doubled since 2000 as a result of its end-use as heat, transportation, and electricity. As more and more countries take aggressive action toward mitigating climate change, the demand for sustainably sourced biomass is expected to increase.
For example, last year, we saw the United Kingdom complete a record-breaking 67-day period without burning coal. That’s the longest the UK has been without coal since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and it would not have been possible without biomass.
Presently, biomass is the only reliable, dispatchable, renewable fuel on the market that is readily available today and can replace fossil fuels for both power and heat generation. When sourced responsibly, wood-based biomass is a complement to wind and solar and can accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. For utilities and power generators that choose to make that transition, the benefits include maintaining dependable, renewable, baseload power that in turn can support the building of other renewables.
How Renewable Energy Equates to a Global Recovery
As more coal plants are decommissioned – primarily driven by the global commitment to phase out coal, cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 – we expect to see a sizeable job transfer within the energy space.
A significant benefit of using wood biomass for energy is that we can essentially recycle our existing energy infrastructure. When you convert a coal plant, you keep the boilers, the grid connection, the transport links and more. It keeps costs down, keeps people employed, and can deliver carbon reduction in coal-dependent countries quickly and at scale. In addition to preserving jobs, transitioning heat and power generators to biomass can minimize environmental impact from new energy infrastructure development and build-out.
Looking ahead to more future-oriented solutions, such as the development of the hydrogen economy, biomass will remain essential and continue to evolve into other critical roles. The most obvious is to use biomass directly to create hydrogen through gasification and thereby avoid carbon emissions that are associated with natural gas. Even further down the road, when surplus solar and wind could potentially be used to create hydrogen at scale, there will be an exciting opportunity to produce aviation and other fuels with carbon capture and storage of biomass (BECCS) that could result in negative greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, as decarbonization efforts in the heavy industries such as steel and cement rapidly increase, they too will look to bioenergy solutions to help decarbonize their operations.
Sustainably sourced wood pellets reduce GHG emissions by more than 85% on a lifecycle basis compared to coal and by more than 70% compared to natural gas. In conclusion, sustainably sourced woody biomass is one of very few solutions today that can and is providing green heat while supporting a green recovery on a global scale.
This is a promoted article.