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Climate Action Plan lacks recognition for the role and potential of bioenergy – IrBEA

Climate Action Plan lacks recognition for the role and potential of bioenergy – IrBEA
Set on a dramatic outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, Co.Tipperary, the Rock of Cashel is iconic in its historic significance, and according to the Office of Public Works (OPW) possesses the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland. Originally the seat of the Kings of Munster, according to legend St. Patrick himself came here to convert King Aenghus to Christianity. Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978 and made it his capital.

The Irish government has published its Climate Action Plan 2023 (CAP23), the second annual update to Ireland’s Climate Action 2019. Commenting on the publication, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) says that it is "disappointed and concerned" that the government's Climate Action Plan does not adequately recognize the immediate and broad role of bioenergy in achieving Ireland’s ambitious climate action targets.

Published on December 21, 2022, CAP23 is the first to be prepared under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, and, following the introduction in 2022, of economy-wide carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings.

According to IrBEA, the plan risks ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’ on energy security and decarbonization.

Bioenergy gets just one mention in the overall climate action plan published yesterday. The plan fails to recognize the significant immediate role and contribution that bioenergy can make to emissions reduction, renewable energy targets, and the broader environmental and economic benefits that bioenergy can deliver, said Seán Finan, CEO of IrBEA.

According to IrBEA, the plan is at odds with the evidence provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These international experts, across several recent reports, including the IPCC’s recent report, state that to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the use of feasible renewable technologies, including bioenergy, needs to be rapidly expanded in the short term.

The different bioenergy sectors including solid biomass, biogas/biomethane, and liquid biofuels do not feature adequately enough in the plan. The recognition of their immediate potential, as proven, sustainable and renewable technologies lags far behind what is necessary to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions set out in national and EU legislation. The plan will not deliver if the level of ambition on bioenergy remains at an insignificant level, not to mention the reliance on unrealistic targets, unproven technologies, policies, and aspirations, Seán Finan said.

Misguided emphasis on electrification

This version of the plan, like previous versions, focuses strongly on the electrification of heat and transport but with an increased emphasis on the potential for biogas/biomethane and the role of liquid biofuels.

The plan mentions the potential for biomass use at limited industrial heat levels only and falls short in terms of recognizing solid biomass as a proven, low-cost, and sustainable energy source in commercial and domestic applications.

IrBEA members are disappointed that the plan fails to recognize the need and potential to immediately accelerate the broad uptake of bioenergy technology deployment in Ireland. Despite some positive aspects of the plan, the future contribution of bioenergy in Ireland’s renewable energy mix is not meaningfully recognized in contrast to what’s currently happening in many states across Europe in terms of policy and deployment of bioenergy, said Seán Finan.

The plan’s ambition and strong focus on electrification – 88 percent by 2030 of high-grade industrial heat which is currently not proven or widely deployed – is not deemed credible by IrBEA.

The plan is also at odds with other EU member states who consider bioenergy to be central to decarbonization. This and previous Climate Action Plans have put significant focus on a very small pool of technologies such as the electrification of cars, deep retrofit of houses, and electrification of heat. Generally, electricity is the most expensive means by which to heat water or space. With the first three years of this decade now complete the uptake of these technologies is falling far short of the Climate Action Plan expectations. It is becoming abundantly clear that the plan is set to fail significantly to meet 2025 and 2030 targets, said Noel Gavigan, Technical Executive at IrBEA.

Sustainable biomass is a proven, widely deployed and cost-effective technology currently delivering renewable heat at all scales and temperatures from domestic to industrial.

The narrow focus on technologies that rely only on electrification is a very risky policy. This is particularly so at a time when the public is being asked to be careful about when they use electricity – this plan seeks to make Ireland doubly reliant on having a secure renewable electricity grid delivering substantially more power than today. Instead of taking pressure off the electricity grid, the plan proposes to add more demands to it. Other EU member states clearly see the need to develop a wider range of technologies and are ensuring secure supply though having this approach, Noel Gavigan said.

Honourable mentions for district heat and biofuels

IrBEA notes some positive aspects of CAP23, the ambition for district heating with the potential to be fuelled by bioenergy, biogas/biomethane, and bioliquids is welcome.

Furthermore, the acknowledgment that biofuels have played a significant role in reducing transport emissions and will remain a core transitional measure for the medium-term reduction of GHG emissions is also positive.

E10 (10 percent ethanol blended in petrol) needs to be implemented immediately and increased urgency on biofuel blending up to B12 and B20 (12 percent and 20 percent biodiesel in diesel) is required, said Seán Finan.

The ambition in terms of biomethane deployment is also welcomed with an updated target of 5.7 TWh by 2030, and the government’s proposal to develop a biomethane strategy within the next six months to reach this target signals the urgency required.

This biomethane strategy needs to be accompanied by a package of incentives, supports and policy measures to mobilize the sector.  Biomethane is recognized in the plan for its potential to deliver zero-emission gas-fired electricity generation, high-temperature industrial heating, and provide alternative diversification opportunities to farmers, but the plan does not mention the potential of biomethane as a transport fuel. We acknowledge the recognition and support in the plan for our European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Small Biogas Demonstration project and we look forward to communicating the findings arising from this project in 2023, Seán Finan said.

IrBEA highlights several specific aspects related to the biomass, biogas, biomethane, and liquid biofuels sectors in the CAP23 published on December 21, 2022, including:

  • Solid Biomass is mentioned as having a role to play in the provision of decarbonized heat at an industrial level but is not recognized for its role at a commercial or domestic level. The commercial level is the current focus of the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).
  • The plan recognizes electrification and biomass adoption in industrial heat decarbonization and lists KPI’s for industry that “55% of low/medium heat to be electrified, 20% of low/ medium grade heat to be converted to sustainable biomass and 64% (2025) and 88% (2030) of high-grade heat to be converted to direct/hybrid electrification technology”. The ambition and a strong focus on electrification technology here, which is not yet proven for high-grade heat, does not make sense at the expense of sustainable biomass which is cheaper, widely available, proven and a deployed technology currently delivering renewable heat in Ireland at high temperature.
  • The plan is ambitious in terms of biomethane deployment with an updated target of 5.7 TWh by 2030 and the plan to develop a biomethane strategy within the next six months is to be welcomed.
  • Biomethane and hydrogen is recognized for its potential to deliver zero-emission gas-fired electricity generation, high-temperature industrial heating, and provide alternative diversification opportunities to farmers but is not recognized for its potential in transport decarbonization.
  • IrBEA acknowledges the recognition and support in the plan for its European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Small Biogas Demonstration project and the dissemination of the learning arising from this project in 2023.
  • There is a recognition that Bioeconomy processes require actors working across sectors to unlock the full potential and cascading use of biomass.
    The recognition that liquid biofuels have played a significant role in reducing transport emissions and will remain a core transitional measure for the medium-term reduction of GHG emissions is welcomed. The plan to implement E10 (10% ethanol in petrol) in 2023 is confirmed but this should have been implemented several years ago. Increased biodiesel blending rates to B12 and B20 (12% and 20% biodiesel in diesel) need to be implemented more swiftly than in 2030.
  • The domestic heat decarbonization plan is short-sighted to solely focuses on an electrification decarbonization solution with no recognition of the potential for bioliquid or solid biomass fuelled appliances. These appliances use either sustainable liquid biofuels or Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme-certified dry wood fuels as a decarbonization technology option, replicating these technology options widely deployed and policy supported in many other EU countries.
  • The lack of any recognition and no mention of the role of renewable diesel (HVO) in the decarbonization of heat and transport is a missed opportunity.
  • Energy crops get no mention and a grant aid scheme for willow short rotation coppice (SRC) should be reinstated in tandem with greatly increased promotion of the SSRH for local sustainable and workable heat solutions.
  • The ambition for district heating is welcomed. Biomass is a proven, low cost and sustainable energy source for district heating throughout Europe, and coupled with increasing levels of indigenous sustainable biomass set to come on stream from forestry it fully addresses the security of supply concerns in relation to fossil fuels.
  • The ambition afforestation target is welcomed however the plan does not recognize the importance of developing the wood fuel sector in parallel, supplying quality, dry, certified wood fuels under the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme label via local supply chains and providing an outlet for sustainable forest management thinning material.

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