As showed in a previous contribution it is essential that the heating sector meets the targets set in the fit for 55 package to get on track towards carbon neutrality by 2050. At the same time, there is increasing awareness of the limited availability of sustainable biomass for heating. This means that we need a framework that ensures that the climate targets for the heating sector are met, while the use of biomass remains at sustainable limits. In this context, a research team form Oeko-Institut addresses the following questions: What do the targets for the heating sector mean for biomass use? What action is needed to make the buildings sector fit for 55 while ensuring that biomass is used within sustainable limits?
To meet the EU goal of net zero in 2050, the heating sector needs to be fully decarbonized. The proposal for the revised Renewable Energy Directive foresees a binding target for the annual increase of the share of renewable energies in the heating sector of 1.1 percentage points (ppt). With an annual increase of 1.1 ppt, renewable heating or cooling would only account for up to around 36 percent in 2030. This implies that the required annual rate must almost triple after 2030 to reach 100 percent in 2050.
Making heating fit for 55 – What are the implications for biomass use?
With biomass currently making up for around 80 percent of the renewable energy used for heating, we address the question how meeting the target can affect the biomass use for heating in 2030.
Starting from 2020 values, we project the biomass use for heating under different scenarios:
- Energy efficiency: We consider three pathways for the energy consumption for heating: 1) A low efficiency pathway, where energy consumption remains the same as now until 2030. 2) A medium efficiency scenario, where energy consumption is reduced by 10 percent. 3) A high efficiency scenario with an energy demand reduction of 20 percent until 2030.
- Role of biomass: We consider three pathways for the role of biomass in increasing the share of renewable energies for heating: 1) high biomass pathway: biomass makes up for 80 percent of the annual increase in the renewable heating share. 2) medium biomass pathway: Biomass accounts for 50 percent of the annual increase in the renewable heating share. 3) Low biomass pathway: Biomass accounts for only 10 percent of the annual increase in the renewable heating share.
Needed: High energy efficiency and limits to biomass use
The following graph shows the energy use for heating and cooling in 2030 under the different pathways for energy efficiency and for the role of biomass. Comparing the biomass use in 2030 (green) with the 2019 levels (dotted line), we can see that biomass use increases in all scenarios except for the ones that limit the role of biomass to 10 percent of the annual increase of renewable energies. In the scenario with low efficiency and high share of biomass, the biomass use increases by a factor of 1.5.
Concluding: To achieve the targets of the heating and cooling sector while maintaining a stable use of biomass, we need two elements:
- Reducing energy demand in the sector through energy efficiency and
- Limiting the role of biomass for meeting the renewable energy target in the sector.
Biomass in the EU energy and climate framework: What action is needed?
How can the EU framework help to ensure that the heating and cooling sector meets its target without increasing the use of biomass to unsustainable levels? The renewable energy directive plays a key role:
- The proposed binding target needs to be adopted in the renewable energy directive, supplemented with a limit for biomass: A binding target for increasing the renewable energy share in the heating and cooling sector as proposed in Art. 23 is a key element for the transition of the sector. To ensure that the target for increasing renewable energies in heating and cooling does not put additional pressure on biomass use, the role of biomass for achieving the target needs to be limited. We propose a cap on the share of biomass in meeting the 1.1 percent target, for example Member States may count biomass, subject to a limit of 20 percent of the average annual increase.
- The framework for sustainability criteria for biomass needs to be reworked: The renewable energy directive introduces a framework that aims at ensuring that the biomass used for heating (and other purposes) is of sustainable origin. However, the framework is weak and needs to be strengthened:
- The criteria are currently only applicable for biomass combustion in large plants. These size thresholds need to be removed or replaced by a threshold for the size of the forest operator (for example 100 hectares) instead of the plant size.
- As proposed by the Commission, also land-use change issues that are currently part of the framework for agriculture biomass should apply to forestry biomass. The link to “areas designated for the protection of rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems or species but not yet protected” is missing in the Commission’s proposal and should be added.
- The GHG balance of biomass currently ignores the carbon stock changes caused by forestry.
Next to the renewable energy directive, the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), the energy efficiency directive (EED) and the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) can contribute to achieve heating and cooling targets while maintaining sustainable use of biomass:
The binding target of 1.1 ppt increase of renewable energies for heating and cooling proposed in the renewable energy directive needs to be maintained or increased to move the sector towards carbon neutrality in 2050.
The increase in renewable heating and cooling needs to be dominated by technologies other than biomass. Depending on the development of energy efficiency, the role of biomass needs to be limited to about 20 percent of the annual increase.
The EU energy and climate framework provides needs to strengthen the framework for ensuring sustainable biomass. Next to introducing a limit for the use of biomass in the target for heating and cooling, the sustainability criteria introduced in the renewable energy directive need to be strengthened.
Further informations/ Sources
- KJ Hennenberg, H Böttcher, CJA Bradshaw. Revised European Union renewable-energy policies erode nature protection. Nature Ecology and Evolution 10.1038/s41559-018-0659-3
- Studie „Aktuelle Nutzung und Förderung der Holzenergie“ des Öko-Instituts
- Hannes Böttcher, Klaus Hennenberg, Katja Hünecke, Horst Fehrenbach, Nils Rettenmaier, Mascha Bischoff und Judith Reise (2020) Naturschutz und fortschrittliche Biokraftstoffe. BfN-Skripten 580.
- Fehrenbach, H.; Bischoff, M.; Böttcher, H.; Reise, J.; Hennenberg, K.J. The Missing Limb: Including Impacts of Biomass Extraction on Forest Carbon Stocks in Greenhouse Gas Balances of Wood Use. Forests 2022, 13, 365.
- Closing an Open Balance: the Impact of Increased Roundwood Harvest on Forest Carbon