Bioenergy: update - March 2021

Considers the potential role for bioenergy to support our net zero greenhouse emissions targets and outlines how we intend to move forward over the next 18 to 24 months to understand the most appropriate and sustainable use of bioenergy resources in Scotland.

4. Bioenergy Policy

Current Policy

The Scottish Government has been supporting bioenergy development in Scotland for over a decade. In particular, before the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), we introduced a biomass support scheme which offered funding to accelerate the uptake of bioenergy. The support was available for supply chain activity and boiler installations and, during (2007-08), over 70 schemes were supported.

From this we developed more targeted support programmes for heat only projects, before the RHI became operational in 2011. This early support helped to further develop and refine our overall policy, which included bringing in restrictions under the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) to support electricity only biomass projects up to 15 MW, while incentivising good CHP projects.

In summary, our policy has changed over time but continues to promote biomass (wood fuel) systems which achieve the greatest possible energy efficiencies and deliver the highest possible carbon savings (given that in most cases they will be displacing oil or coal).

This approach strikes a balance between the need to support sustainable energy generation and those of existing industries such as the timber processing sector, who also use wood.

Unlike wood fuel biomass, specific Scottish policies for Anaerobic Digestion (AD) have not been developed owing to the limited scale of deployment to date. AD plants are currently supported by the UK government's Non-Domestic RHI scheme. This supports both the combustion of biogas and injection of biomethane to the gas grid. From April 2022 the RHI scheme will be replaced by the Green Gas Support Scheme which will focus on increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid through support for biomethane injection.

For biofuels, our policy approach to production or use has largely been focused on the promotion of biofuels for transport through the UK wide Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO).

Contribution to targets

Bioenergy's overall contribution to Scotland's renewable energy target, as outlined in the previous section is modest, 3% of final consumption from bioenergy and wastes.[5] This reflects the current market conditions and policy drivers at both a UK and Scottish level.

However, there may be scope to consolidate and expand existing bioenergy supply chains. In addition future developments could include:

  • Bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage may be used to deliver negative emissions in the power and industrial sectors. Bioenergy may also be used to produce hydrogen. Deploying bioenergy may therefore be an important part of compensating for any residual emissions as we move towards net zero emissions.
  • Biogas and biomethane supporting decarbonisation of heat in Scotland. Our draft Heat in Buildings Strategy, published February 2021, gives details on the role that bioenergy may play in the decarbonisation of heat in buildings, for example in a limited number of hard-to-treat off gas-grid homes where other technologies are inappropriate or, in certain cases, for some small-scale biomass use in local CHP and district heat schemes, as well as for biomethane production for injection into the gas grid.

We explore in the next section, the key issues to be addressed to understand the implications of the future role that bioenergy might play in the energy transition, particularly if that role will involve the scaling up from current levels.

Recent Activity

Since 2017, a number of workstreams/research have been undertaken to improve our understanding of various parts of the bioenergy ecosystem, and wider Scottish Government action including:

Domestic availability of bioenergy feedstock.

We commissioned research to improve our understanding of the domestic availability of bioenergy feedstock. The research considered the various pathways and processes that can be used to convert biological materials into energy for heat, transport or power and the raw materials, or "feedstock" used. (wood, straw, energy crops, food waste, farm waste, animal slurry, distillery by-products and used cooking oil).

This research was conducted in collaboration with stakeholders throughout 2018 with the final outputs published in May 2019[6]. The main findings were:

The potential contribution of bioenergy to Scotland's energy system – Ricardo 2019

  • The use of domestic resources for bioenergy has the potential to more than double from 6.7 TWh per year to 14 TWh per year by 2030.
  • The amount of energy that can actually be delivered will depend on the technologies used, and the efficiency with which they convert the feedstock to heat, electricity or fuel.
  • Additional bioenergy plant will need to be built and deployed within the next decade. The deployment of further bioenergy plant on a similar scale seen to date is possible within our forecast of resource availability. However, supporting new large scale plant would require an expansion of domestic feedstock production or increase in international imports.
  • Several additional anaerobic digestion plant may be technically feasible. This may require the use of a mixture of feedstock and further research and innovation is needed to increase the efficiency of processes.
  • There are also a number of more advanced conversion technologies such as gasification for power or to produce synthetic natural gas and advanced biofuels production. These technologies could be commercially proven by 2030.

Scotland's potential land availability for perennial energy crops

We commissioned a study[7] in July 2019 to investigate Scotland's potential land availability for perennial energy crops such as short rotation forestry, short rotation coppice and miscanthus. This initial analysis (published in December 2020) of the opportunities and constraints for increased bioenergy feedstock production in Scotland highlights the theoretical potential for the expansion of bioenergy crop production. We will undertake further work to consider the wider competing demands on land use. The main findings were:

Land Use Impacts of Perennial Energy Crops in Scotland – Ricardo 2020

  • The Production of energy crops in Scotland is currently very low, only Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) is grown on a small commercial scale of approximately 250 ha;
  • The theoretically suitable total land area identified across all three crops and land types, which include grassland, is more than 900,000 ha;
  • If planting on grassland was not considered then the theoretically suitable area for miscanthus and SRC would be around 100,000 ha;
  • The majority of this theoretically available land is located in the east of Scotland and the lowlands.
  • In practice, the availability of land will be limited by a range of other factors, which were not possible to model in this study e.g. non-spatial constraints and the need for land for other uses, such as food and fodder production, forestry (non-energy), biodiversity etc. These other factors would need to be taken into account if a full evaluation of the areas of energy crops which could actually be planted by 2045 in Scotland is required.

This work along with other recent research undertaken by specific sectors will provide a starting point. Over the coming months we will build on this to develop a Strategic Framework, that will help inform the role of bioenergy in the transition to net zero.



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