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Condensing mode for Swedish bioheat- & power conference

Condensing mode for Swedish bioheat- & power conference
Clouds- and silver linings on the Swedish biomass-fired heat and power horizon.

As world leaders, dignitaries, finance bosses, corporate majors, and selected NGO’s shuttle to-and-fro to the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a group of around 100 Swedish heat and power stakeholders convened in Lund, southern Sweden last week for the Swedish Bioenergy Association's (Svebio) annual bioheat- and power conference. Given the "perfect storm" of operating circumstances and externalities, one may have expected a significantly larger turnout.

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Albeit Svebio’s Stora Biokraftvärme Konferens is a national conference, given the “perfect storm” of operational circumstances and externalities impacting the European biomass-fired heat and/or power sector, the seemingly low attendance does indeed surprise.

Especially seeing as it took place in southern Sweden – the power market region with the highest electricity prices in the country, and the region with a gas grid.

Notwithstanding that biogas/biomethane aka renewable natural gas (RNG) plays a large role in the Danish heat (and power) sector, the Danes would seem to have better copped on to what is potentially at stake – “primary woody biomass”, internal combustion engines, and all that – and rally the stakeholder masses.

As a face value comparison, across the bridge just a fortnight prior, the Danish District Heat Association’s (Dansk Fjernvarme) annual two-day conference in Copenhagen attracted well over 2 000 participants.

Bioenergy Europe’s recent “European Bioenergy Day” communication provides a vivid graphic illustration of why one should be concerned – the top six countries are all in the Nordic-Baltic region where bioenergy accounts for double or more the EU average, and it is predominately forest-derived.

Be attendance as it may, Svebio’s two-day event also included an optional study tour to either Kraftringen Energi’s or Perstorp Fjärrvärme‘s facilities, both of which provided two examples of topical speaking points for those who did attend.

According to recent figures from Tidningen Bioenergi, an (older) sister publication to Bioenergy International and the official journal of Svebio, there are 557 district bioheat networks in Sweden (2020) of which just over 22 percent are combined heat and power (CHP) facilities.

Kraftringen Energi’s Örtofta biomass-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant produces around 500 GWh of heat and 220 GWh of power per annum.

Furthermore, there are 243 bio-fired industrial- and municipal CHP plants currently operational (2022). These have a total installed power capacity of around 4.2 GW, and a so-called normal annual power production capacity of around 17.5 TWh. Another 21 bio-fired CHP facilities are currently in various stages of construction and represent another 450 MW of installed power capacity, about 1.4 TWh of normal annual power production capacity.

However, as figures presented by Svebio during the conference showed, while bioenergy as a whole accounted for 37.5 percent (138.8 TWh) of the total energy used in 2021 (369.6 TWh), biopower accounted for 14 TWh or 8 percent of Sweden’s total power production 2021 (166.6 TWh) – roughly 3.5 TWh less than what these plants could generate a normal production year.

A survey of bio-CHP facilities representing a total of 4.2 GW installed power capacity, also conducted by Svebio and presented during the conference, shed more light surrounding the difference. Of the total, 63 percent replied representing just over 3 GW of installed power capacity (73 percent).

Amongst other things, survey respondents representing 1 775 MW of installed power capacity indicated that their CHP facility had the technical ability to generate electricity at full power capacity even at full heat load demand from industry and/or district heating.

A bio-oil storage tank at a district heating plant.

Although the majority of respondents said they produced more electricity during the 21/22 heating season compared to the previous 20/21 season, respondents representing 1 874 MW of installed power capacity indicated that they did not generate power when the heat demand was the largest.

Indeed, how much power, if any, is actually generated by bio-CHP plants is dependent on the profitability of heat production. This in turn is dependent on a number of items including the cost of fuel, electricity prices, degree days, and cost of operating peak load boilers for heat during the coldest periods.

With the exception of degree days, these cost items are all factors directly affected by policy and steering instruments, both national and EU, such as energy- and carbon taxation on bio-oils (typically used in peak boiler units instead of fossil oil), or permitting restraints such as energy efficiency limiting condensing mode operation when heat demand is low.

So, as the (northern) European heating season gets well underway, Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine that thus far has resulted in volatile “off-both-ends-of-the-charts” gas- and electricity prices, constrained woodchip- and pellet supplies to mention a few along with the ongoing public perception Battle of the Forests – “wood is good, biomass is bad” – one may have expected a significantly larger turnout in Lund.

It’s a shame, as the otherwise well-presented event had highly qualified speakers offering candid insights into how they get bioenergy win-win-win stuff done despite current operational circumstances and externalities.

Svebio’s own impact analysis on the proposed restrictions on the use of “primary woody biomass” in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) offers an insight – “How restrictions on “primary woody biomass” will impact Swedish energy and climate development

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