Calls for Government to secure biomass pipeline during coronavirus outbreak

Associations from the UK's biomass fuel supply chain have called for the UK Government to ensure the sector can continue to deliver low-carbon heating to households and business facilities that are still open and under increased pressure due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Calls for Government to secure biomass pipeline during coronavirus outbreak

The council

Biomass Heat Works, known as the UK Pellet Council and Wood Heat Association has called on the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to work with the sector to ensure the security of supply during the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

As more workers start working from home while key hospitals, healthcare facilities, supermarkets and food producers stay open to assist with national efforts to combat the outbreak, the association is calling for a secure pipeline of low-carbon heat.

UK Pellet Council’s chair Mark Lebus said: “These are unprecedented times and nobody could have foreseen the impact which this outbreak is having, and unfortunately will continue to have, in the short-term. It is therefore essential that key frontline organisations like the NHS and healthcare providers, other essential businesses like supermarkets, food producers and manufacturers supplying much-needed items, and key workers, can 100% rely on our industry to provide critical biomass heating in a time of crisis.”

Wood pellet usage in the UK equates to around 700,000 tonnes annually and the sector anticipates a rise in demand as more people are now working from home.

Currently, the wood fuel supply in the UK requires national production and imported pellets from abroad in equal measure. In response, the council, hosted by the REA, has called for full reassurance that UK production, imports and transportation remain open and subject to free movement.

The association notes that some supermarket chains, which are remaining open, heat nearly 100 sites using biomass wood pellets, equating to 30,000 tonnes per annum with deliveries to each story every two or three weeks. Additionally, some large food producers use around 20,000 tonnes of wood pellets annually.

“Our suppliers are pulling out all the stops to ensure that wood fuel deliveries get there on time. However, with imported pellets coming into most ports in the UK on almost a weekly basis, we’re asking Government to include us in their planning as they would do for traditional fossil fuels, and ensure the free movement into and around the UK,” Lebus added.

“Suppliers have already implemented strict social distancing policies to ensure no contact is maintained when delivering, and therefore we must keep frontline organisations, as well as homes and businesses located in rural areas, heated and operational.”

Biomass building blocks

The REA has argued that the Government must ensure that bioenergy generation doubles to 16% of the UK’s energy mix by 2032, if energy security is to be safeguarded and climate targets to be met.

Bioenergy, which currently represents 7.4% of the UK’s primary energy supply mix, must play a “crucial” role in decarbonisation as sectors such as transport and heavy industry rely increasingly on electrified technologies and systems, the group notes.

These challenges in increased electricity demand, the REA notes, will be compounded by the phase-out of coal generation plants and the so-called “nuclear gap”. Of the eight nuclear generation points currently based in the UK, which collectively account for around one-fifth of primary power supply, seven are set to close by the end of 2030.

On a domestic level, renewable heat is also the subject of political interest.  The government will extend the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) until 31 March 2022 and introduce “flexible tariff guarantees” to the Non-Domestic RHI March 2021.

The RHI was due to close in March 2021, with the Government struggling to outline how it will promote low-carbon heating beyond that point. From April 2021, households signed up to the scheme will continue to receive payments until the end of a seven-year agreement.

The RHI was put in place by the Government as a means to convert 12% of UK homes to renewable heat by the end of 2020. Current trajectories suggest it will reach 8-10%.

Matt Mace

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