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Bioheat: essential for EU energy independence and security

Bioheat: essential for EU energy independence and security
A local woodchip-fired district heat plant in rural south-central Sweden fires on a light frosty morning in mid-October 2018.

With skyrocketing prices of gas, oil, and electricity, the EU is facing a major energy crisis this winter, and many citizens are at risk of not being able to afford to heat their homes. Today’s debate on the EU’s heat supply looks at affordability, sustainability, and renewability, but now more than ever, energy security is at the core of the discussion. Bioheat ticks all the boxes as a new Bioenergy Europe report reveals.

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For the fourth time since its launch in 2007, the 2022 Statistical Report published by Bioenergy Europe is being split into different publications, each one covering a different aspect of bioenergy.

Currently, the question of how to provide half of the EU’s energy supply – namely heat – remains difficult to answer. Bioheat is, however, an available solution to decarbonize and securely supply the heating sector, and the 2022 Statistical Report Bioheat together with its accompanying Policy Brief analyses the current state of play of biomass in the heating sector.

Bioenergy Europe points out that bioenergy is often wrongly linked to power generation; however, it is “remarkable that bioheat accounts for 74 percent of all bioenergy consumption in the EU.”

In 2019, out of all renewables in heating (RES-H), bioenergy contributed 85 percent, allowing for a reduction in emissions by approximately 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq).

This represents more than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of Belgium and Slovakia combined and “shows how bioheat can actively contribute to the REPowerEU’s objectives.”

Nonetheless, the report highlights that one of the biggest challenges of the heating sector is its reliance on fossil fuels, with 36 percent of all GHG emissions in Europe coming from heat. To achieve its climate neutrality goal, “the EU cannot afford to delay its commitment to higher RES-H penetration.”

In the current legislative proposals, more ambitious targets for heat are welcomed as they show a clear recognition of the sector’s importance to the EU’s climate targets as well as the REPowerEU objectives.

“Bioheat offers a solution for another big challenge of the sector – i.e. the obsolescence of aging appliances. Modernizing the EU’s heating stock is key, as today a quarter of heating installations in the EU are over 30 years old.”

In order to meet higher air quality objectives by 2030, the slow substitution rate of inefficient and outdated appliances needs to be accelerated so that new, modern bioheat appliances can contribute to increased GHG emissions savings.

When looking at pollution reduction, one open fireplace emits the same amount of fine particles as 300 modern bioheat appliances, which shows the immense potential the sector has in terms of energy efficiency, especially in the building industry.

Beyond domestic heating, RES penetration in the overall EU heating system must be prioritized. Biomass-based district heating provides a concrete solution to further boost the fuel switch to renewables. Since 2000,
bioenergy’s share in district heating has more than tripled, reaching a share of 97 percent of all RES combined in 2020.

This remarkable increase proves once more that bioheat provides a viable energy-efficient solution, both at the individual and district level, and constitutes a perfect example of sector integration.

Furthermore, the report finds that 80 percent of the energy consumption in industry is used for heating purposes, with bioheat covering 10 percent of the total industrial heat consumption.

We are all worried about getting through the upcoming heating season, and we see an increase in demand for pellets for individual heating appliances. This shows the interest of end-users in a sustainable and domestically available source of energy commented Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary General of Bioenergy Europe.

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