Ireland's renewable energy targets linked to sustainability of biomass


Achieving the full benefits of Ireland’s renewable energy targets will depend on the sustainability of biomass as an energy source.

This was one of the messages heard at a conference in Dublin entitled - 'Biomass, Achieving Targets – Maximising Benefits'.

The conference, which heard insights from international experts on the sustainability of biomass, was organised jointly by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), Tipperary Institute and International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy Task 29.

According to speakers at the conference, Ireland needs to mobilise significant quantities of biomass for energy in order to reach the national renewable energy targets for 2020. One critical characteristic of biomass which needs to be carefully considered with regard to both domestic and imported biomass for energy, is its sustainability. Approaches to assessing sustainability of biomass are being applied in other countries and an EU-wide scheme for determining the sustainability of biofuels is at an advanced stage of development.

Pearse Buckley, SEI’s representative on the Executive Committee of the IEA Bioenergy Implementing Agreement said - “The sustainability of biomass has become a focus of public debate - particularly due to the rise in global demand for biofuels. Here, in Ireland, the Bioenergy Working Group - which has been set up by the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources in conjunction with SEI - has a goal to develop a sustainable bioenergy supply roadmap towards the national renewable energy targets for 2020.

"This conference is happening at an opportune moment and will provide an important international perspective and inform the work of the Bioenergy Working Group.”

Over the past 5 years however, the global market in biomass for energy - particularly as refined wood pellets and liquid biofuels - has grown substantially. Biofuels produced from first-generation technologies are unlikely to be adequate to meet future demand in a sustainable manner. Investment in second-generation biofuel production technologies from residues and purpose-grown energy crops is necessary in order to increase the sustainability of biomass as an energy source.

Mr Clifford Guest, Tipperary Institute and IEA Task 29 representative for Ireland said - “While it is important that national targets for bioenergy are reached, it is also crucial that resources used are sourced from sustainable sources. The conference will look at these issues and investigate best practice internationally in order to identify positive ways forward.”

The sustainability of biomass is likely to be determined according to a number of parameters including -

  • Effective Greenhouse Gas reductions achieved when substituting for fossil fuels
  • Impact on biodiversity
  • Impact on land use - and
  • Impact on society at both a local and global scale.

The conference was primarily aimed at those involved in policy and the development of bioenergy in Ireland. Biomass has significant potential as a source of energy in Ireland - contributing to demand for heating, electricity and transport fuels - and could provide between 5 and 10% of Ireland’s total primary energy requirement by 2020.

Among the international perspectives shared at the conference were the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) position on the sustainability of global biomass production, as well as a testing framework for sustainable biomass currently being applied in the Netherlands.

The Irish Government’s Energy White Paper - Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland - has established ambitious targets for bioenergy by 2020, including -

  • 12% renewable heat – while not directly identifying biomass, nevertheless, it is likely that biomass would need to contribute more than 90% of this target if it were to be realised;
  • 30% co-firing with biomass at the three peat power plants (to be achieved by 2015);
  • 800 MWe of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) with an 'emphasis on biomass-fuelled CHP' - and
  • 10% biofuels – this would be exclusively derived from biomass.

For more information on SEI - Click Here

For more information on IEA Bioenergy Task 29 - Click Here