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2020 saw marginal growth of solid biomass fuels consumption in EU 27

The abnormally mild winter and warm weather experienced across Europe along with the economic fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic curbed the demand for solid biomass fuels during 2020. At 94.4 Mtoe, solid biomass fuels primary energy consumption in the EU 27 grew marginally in 2020 – by 0.3 percent – compared to 2019. Primary energy production from solid biomass fuels 2020 contracted by the same percentage – 0.3 percent – to 92 Mtoe, according to EurObserv'ER figures.

Solid biomass fuels used for primary energy consumption in the EU 27 in 2020 (i.e. excluding the UK) increased marginally by 0.3% compared to 2019. Primary energy production (i.e. solid biomass fuels that originate in the EU 27) contracted by 0.3% during the same period according to the latest figures from EurObserv’ER. The difference, made up by net imports, plus or minus stock variations, primarily took the form of wood pellets and woodchips from the United States (US), Canada, and Russia (graphic courtesy EurObserv’ER).

According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) “European State of the Climate 2020“, 2020 was the hottest year on record for Europe and brought the hottest decade ever recorded to a close.

Europe’s annual temperature was 0.4°C higher than in 2019, and the hottest ever. According to Eurostat, the number of heating degree days (HDD) in 2020 in the EU 27 fell to its lowest level of the decade – 2 759 HDD compared to an average of 2 977 HDD – after falling by 5.2 percent between 2019 and 2020.

The reduction in HHD translates into reduced heating needs and affected several European climate zones, primarily Northern Europe such as Sweden (with 4 593 HDD or 10.3 percent less), Western Europe such as France (with 2 038 HDD or 9.3 percent less), and also Southern Europe such as Spain (with 1 554 HDD or 7 percent less).

Although this contrasted with Eastern Europe where heating demand increased slightly compared to 2019, the number of HDDs recorded in 2020 was far below the average for the decade.

In addition, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s economic fall-out also resulted in both lower heating and power demands. The European Commission’s Energy balances – early estimates, published in June 2021 – quantified the total drop in the EU’s electricity output at about 4 percent and heat sold (not directly used by the final user) at 3.2 percent.

Despite all this, primary energy consumption in 2020 increased marginally in the EU 27, up 0.3 percent to reach 94.4 Mtoe.

According to EurObserv’ER, this can be credited to an increase in electricity recovery from solid biomass fuels of about 2 TWh, which rose to 82.6 TWh, contrasting with solid biomass heat consumption which slipped by 0.8 percent to 76.4 Mtoe.

Individual Member States’ variations are however more mixed. The strongest increase can be credited to the Netherlands, whose consumption rose from 1.6 Mtoe in 2019 to 2.3 Mtoe in 2020 largely due to wood pellets being used in power plants while solid biomass fuels consumption fell in France, Finland, and Germany.

EurObserv’ER notes that Sweden actually increased its primary solid biomass consumption by 3.2 percent. It offset load reductions in combined heat and power (CHP) plants, and heat plants serving the district heating sector by increases in direct heat consumption by end-users, especially industrial users.

Spearheaded by the pulp and paper industries, industry end-use as a whole used 5 Mtoe of solid biomass fuels in 2020, which is 0.7 Mtoe or 14 percent more than in 2019.

A pulp mill in Sweden. Some of the pulp and paper industry’s higher energy consumption in 2020 can be put down to the increase in packaging volumes driven by online purchases, which burgeoned as a result of Covid-19 lock-down measures.

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