With just one month to go, things are looking up for this year's hybrid edition of the European Pellet Conference, to be held as part of the World Sustainable Energy Days (WSED) on April 6, 2022, in Wels, Austria. Irrespective of if one plans to participate online or in real life seldom has a pellet event found itself in a global geopolitical vortex that has such direct implications for all concerned.
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On the plus side is the relaxation of coronavirus (COVID-19) travel and meeting restrictions that have been in place in numerous countries and regions including Austria, albeit subject to change at short notice.
On the minus side is the Russian President’s ongoing, illegal and murderous military onslaught of Ukraine.
The former simply means that our need as social creatures to have sociophysical interactions with one another, like at wood pellet conferences, can be met again. And Wels is just as a nice place as London, Stockholm, Tokyo, Vancouver, or Miami to do so.
Apart from the untold misery, death, and destruction being unleashed in Ukraine, the latter means that soon if not already pellets produced in either Belarus or Russia are deemed non-grata by the European public, placed under economic sanctions/trade embargos, and/or have various sustainability feedstock chain-of-custody certifications suspended.
It should also be said that the wider sanctions imposed on Russia will ultimately impact many ordinary Russian civilians and pellet producers alike that have no part in their President’s despotic antics.
The European market implications of this, especially the residential market – read ENplus – along with the European Commission’s recent REPowerEU proposal will surely be a hot topic for discussion in Wels and elsewhere on the 2022 pellets calendar, as the Ukrainian tragedy unfolds.
However, thanks to its unique Upper Austria location, Wels offers in real-life participants something else. Under the motto “Pellets – fuelling the energy transition!“, the event shows how firing up pellet markets can boost the energy transition – applicable in almost any region – and how to position pellets as an important climate solution to become a REPowered region.
And there is plenty to showcase, Upper Austria holds a leading position in biomass heating. According to the regional energy agency – OÖ Energiesparverband (OÖESV), the organizer of the events – 15 percent of primary energy comes from sustainable biomass, and 35 percent of all dwellings are heated with clean biomass in a region of approximately 1.5 million inhabitants.
A comprehensive policy approach coined “carrot, sticks and tambourines” has led to the establishment of a well-developed biomass heating market and supply chain, where biomass heating has become a standard solution in the region.
Upper Austria has one of the highest densities of small-scale automatic heating systems in the world. Already 61 000 automatic biomass systems supply heat to homes, public buildings, and companies: 34 000 pellet and 27 000 woodchip systems. There are also more than 350 biomass district heating plants in operation.
Alongside the regional circular bioeconomy and climate benefits, and security of supply with reduced reliance on imported fossil fuels (be they from Russia or elsewhere), there are more socioeconomic goodies – the region is home to leading biomass boiler manufacturers.
More than 25 percent of all modern small-scale biomass boilers installed in the EU come from Upper Austrian companies. Over EUR 1 billion is invested in biomass fuels and equipment annually and there are over 6 000 jobs in the biomass heating industry.
In short, bioenergy has emerged as an important economic driver and plays a key role in ambitions for achieving the energy transition.
How that is being achieved to become a REPowered EU region is well worth going on a trip to Wels to see and hear for oneself.