Biomass for power generation

The renewable energy share in the power sector keeps growing. Electricity is the sector where renewables have experienced the largest increase over the last decade (14,3% in 2004 compared to 28,8% in 2015). Renewable electricity sources like wind, photovoltaic and hydro lead the growth in the power sector but, because of their variable nature, require flexible and dispatchable electricity generation to complement them. The biopower sector is currently under scrutiny by EU legislators and may be severely limited by stringent sustainability criteria. This would be shortsighted as biopower could displace environmentally harmful fossil fuels, while providing green electricity as well as heat (in the case of cogeneration plants).

Contrary to what the current EU-28 discussions on biopower may suggest, the majority of bioelectricity (57,7%) is generated by combined heat and power plants (CHP). This is the case for 22 of the 28 EU member states. Only Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Spain, Ireland and the UK have more than 50% of their bioelectricity produced in power only plants.

On the opposite, power only plants are predominants in the EU total electricity mix. The current EU debate on biomass sustainability seems to suggest that as far as biopower is concerned, only biomass used in CHP should be considered as sustainable in the future. This simplistic approach undermines the potential and need for biopower to complement variable renewable energy sources, while displacing environmentally harmful fossil fuels.


The top 5 EU-28 countries in biopower represent 68% of the total EU biolectricity generation. In comparison to the top 5 in bioheat, it can observe that the bioelectricity market is more concentrated. Among the following top 5, led by Germany (28%) and the UK (17%), different approaches exist. While in Germany and Italy, the majority of bioelectricity is produced in a high number of small/medium size biogas plants, the UK is showing an alternative model with a limited number of large installations consuming woody biomass.

Solid fuels (mostly woody biomass) amounts to more than half of the biomass fuel consumed by the biopower industry mainly in the form of woodchips and pellets.  Compared to heat generation, biogas plays an important role in power generation with more than a third of the fuel used for this purpose. Germany alone represents more than half of all EU-28 biogas consumption for power generation. Municipal waste recovery and liquid biofuels represent the remaining 15%.



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