Bioenergy’s contribution to the EU’s 2020 renewable objectives is crucial. By 2020, bioenergy is expected to contribute to half of the EU’s 20% renewable energy target. In 2015, bioenergy consumption reached 111.807 kilotonnes of oil equivalent which is more than double the consumption in 2000. This increase is equivalent to the annual coal consumption in the industry, residential and service sectors combined. According to Member States’ projections , by 2020, almost 140.000 kilotonnes of oil equivalent are expected to be consumed yearly, which would imply a growth of 25% when compared to 2015.
Renewables are often associated with power generation and transport. Studies shown than when asking European citizens about renewable heating and cooling technologies, almost 35% weren’t able to name one single technology. The heating and cooling sector remains underestimated, showing great room for improvement. Heating and cooling represents around 50% of total EU energy consumption, of which 82% is powered by fossil fuels. Renewables are becoming a key priority for EU policy, in buildings specifically, a sector which is essential to address in order to reach EU decarbonisation objective. Bioenergy is currently the leading renewable in heating and cooling (88%) representing 16% of European gross final consumption of energy in this sector.
In the bioheat sector, residential consumption remains a strong driver with half of total consumption (51%). The residential sector consists of individual heating appliances such as stoves and boilers using wood logs, woodchips or pellets. Industry (26%) and “district heating” (15%) represent together about 40% of biomass consumption in the heating sector. These sectors, together with medium-scale installations in services such as schools, hospitals and hotels still have a great potential for development. As far as industry is concerned, many companies have already switched from fossil fuels to biomass, but more can be done in the coming years. Heat, carried through district heating networks to individuals and business, is also an important component of EU bioheat consumption and is essential, especially in Nordic and Baltic countries. This segment has a high potential for being further developed.
Traditionally, the electricity market has been more closely addressed by European regulations, allowing renewable energies to make up 29% of the market share. Wind, hydro and photovoltaics are leading the transition in the sector. With regards to power generation, bioenergy represents 6% of the overall EU generation. Most renewable power is generated by wind, hydropower and photovoltaic sources. Bioenergy represents 19% of the EU renewable electricity production. As intermittency remains an issue in the near future, biomass will play a growing role as a back-up, dispatchable energy source.
Contrary to what can be sometime said or written about bioenergy, statistics show that a great majority of biomass electricity consumed in Europe (57,7%) comes from combined heat and power plants also called cogeneration or CHP rather than from plants producing only power. The situation is exactly the opposite in the traditional power generation industry: in the overall EU energy mix in power, CHP plants represent only 12,2% whereas power only plants amount to 88,8%.
This shows that bioenergy is actually an effective means to promote and further develop the use of modern and efficient CHP in Europe.
Biofuel for transport
The transport sector has always been the most challenging for renewables in terms of market penetration. Renewables represent 6% of EU total energy consumption (16.376kilotonnes of oil equivalent) in transport, 81% of which is provided by biofuels in 2015. It is rather challenging to foresee how biofuels (in particular first generation biofuels) will continue to develop, as recent EU legislation established a quota for these biofuels. EU statistics on renewables in transport can also be misleading regarding the actual level of production as multiple counting rules are applied according to the EU renewable energy directive. Looking more in details, biofuel market is driven by biodiesel and bioethanol. Biodiesel was the first biofuel developed and used in the EU in the transport sector in the 1990s. EU remains the world’s largest biodiesel producer and consumed 13.965 million liters in 2016. In comparison, bioethanol consumption in 2016 reached 5.170 million liters for an actual production of 5.050 million liters.
78% of bioethanol was for fuel consumption. Other markets, such as beverages and industrial applications each represented 11% of the 5.2 billion litres production.
When used for biofuels, renewable ethanol is a relatively low-cost alternative fuel and is proven to reduce CO2 emissions significantly. In 2016, fuel ethanol use in Europe saved an average 66% GHG emissions compared to fossil petrol – and that GHG-saving performance is getting better every year. The more ethanol is blended with petrol, the greater the benefits. Its use reduces the European transport sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 6 million tonnes each year, the equivalent of at least 4 million cars taken off the road.
Besides first generation biofuels, one of the hottest topics in Europe over the past years has been the penetration of new transport market segments heavily relying on oil, (like the aviation industry) and the development of second and even third generation biofuels.