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Bioenergy trends – IEA Bioenergy releases updated Country Reports

IEA Bioenergy, a Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP) within the International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its updated Country Reports, showing the trends of bioenergy in the IEA Bioenergy member countries up to 2019, looking at the role of bioenergy in total energy supply (TES), in electricity use, total fuel/heat consumption, and in transport energy consumption.

Evolution of total energy supply (TES) per capita in the IEA Bioenergy member countries (Data source: IEA (2021) World Energy Balances and Renewables Information).

The summary report ‘IEA Bioenergy Countries’ Report – update 2021: Implementation of bioenergy in the IEA Bioenergy member countries’ presents a comparative overview of the results for the different countries. The individual country reports are available as separate reports.

Local conditions matter

The IEA Bioenergy member countries have distinct characteristics that impact their renewable energy and bioenergy potential. Country size and population density, as well as topography, climatic conditions, and land use distribution, are particularly important.

Countries with low population density tend to have higher potential availability of domestic biomass resources, while countries with high population density tend to rely much more on imports for their energy and resource requirements.

Energy mix

Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) still play a dominating role in most countries. Only in Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland do renewable energy and nuclear energy represent more than half of the total energy supply.

There is a strong decreasing trend of coal in several countries, particularly in Europe and North America; however, in the past 5 years, many countries had an increase in natural gas use – in part compensating for the decrease in coal. The consumption of fossil oil is fairly stable.

Apart from countries with elevated levels of hydropower, bioenergy represents more than half of the renewable energy supply in most countries.

Four categories of biomass are considered: solid biomass, biogas/biomethane, and liquid biofuels, and the renewable part of municipal waste. Solid biomass includes forestry wood and residues, residues from wood processing and pulp & paper industries, agricultural residues (straw), and wood waste.

Solid biomass remains the dominant category of biomass used for energy in all countries.

Germany is most advanced in biogas/biomethane use; among other countries catching up, Denmark has taken major steps, almost tripling its biogas use in 4 years. Liquid biofuels are again on the rise as transport fuel after some slowdown in the 2010-2015 period.

The use of municipal solid waste (MSW) for power and/or heat production is linked to the stage of waste management development in a country, which is quite advanced in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Typically around half of MSW is renewable/biobased.

Renewables and bioenergy in different sectors

Bioenergy plays a role in the three main energy sectors: electricity, fuel/heat consumption, and transport energy consumption. While for electricity generation different types of renewables (hydropower, wind, solar, biomass) play a role, bioenergy is the dominant renewable energy type for heat provision and for transport energy use.

The sustainability of biomass sourcing is high on the agenda.

Electricity: The main growth for renewable electricity in the past decade has been in wind power, followed by solar power and biomass-based power. In Denmark, Finland and Estonia, bioelectricity represents more than 15 percent of electricity production, and also more than 10 percent in the UK, Sweden, Germany, and Brazil. Bioelectricity is mainly produced from solid biomass, except for some countries that mainly use biogas (Germany, Italy, and Croatia) and for Switzerland that rely more on MSW.

Heat: fossil fuels still dominate, typically exceeding 75 percent of total fuel/heat provision. For fuel/heat provision, biomass is the dominant renewable source. The traditional use of biomass in emerging economies is going down, often replaced by fossil fuels. Most important progress in modern uses of biomass for heat has been made in countries with a strong presence of district heating and/or wood processing industries. Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, and Finland had important progress in the replacement of fossil fuels by biomass in centralized heat production.

Transport: this sector is the most challenging, still dominated by fossil fuels for 95 percent in most countries. Brazil and Sweden have achieved a renewable energy share in transport of 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively, with Norway and Finland also reaching more than 10 percent. Renewable energy is dominated by biofuels, with biodiesel and bioethanol being the dominant biofuel types. In recent years there is an increasing trend towards advanced, mostly residue-based, biofuels.

Renewable electricity is considered an important option in transport, particularly in the car segment. However, electricity use currently only represents between 0.1 and 4 percent of transport energy, most of it in rail.

While EV sales will increase in the coming years, the replacement of the car fleet will take time so fuels will still be needed for the car sector in the next few decades.

Moreover, the heavy-duty and long-distance transport sectors will still remain dependent on fuels for quite some time. So, renewable fuels will remain an important option to displace fossil fuels in transport.

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