Stop ignoring biomass in heat decarbonisation plans, urges campaign

Representatives from the UK’s biomass heat industry are calling on the government to properly think through pledges and proposals aimed at reducing the country’s carbon emission levels, following Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s pledge to invest £160 million (€176 million) in wind generation.

Biomass Heat Works! said while sentiments and efforts to replace fossil fuel usage are welcomed, urgent calls are being made for ministers to halt the “disjointed and scattergun approach” to decarbonisation policy, in particular home heating, whereby plans already put forward are “largely flawed”, particularly for rural and off-gas grid areas.

The organisation said current proposals “vastly ignore” workability, housing stock, accessibility and the significant investment required to upgrade the entire UK network, should electrification for home heating be favoured overall.

While promising as a “sound-bite”, the current direction of favouring air source heat pumps instead of giving consumers choice based on the property, its age and location, is destined for failure, according to Biomass Heat Works!, and will cost millions in the long-run.

The organisation said questions have also been raised by network operators on the additional costs to upgrade networks to cope with new installations. Some have suggested smart meters could cut off houses using higher amounts of electricity at peak times. Biomass representatives have, therefore, welcomed the news that the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee is to hold an inquiry into the path to future heat decarbonisation policy in November and examine the government’s Buildings and Heat Strategy.

Neil Holland, director of the UK Pellet Council, said: “The biomass heat industry and those working within it are 100% behind all efforts to reduce carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels, and while using certain technologies in certain areas makes perfect sense, a blanket ‘one size fits all’ approach to heat decarbonisation will simply not work.

“The government should be looking at a complimentary, mixed-technology approach that is fit-for-purpose depending upon housing stock and location so that customers are able to specify what best suits their property and their needs. If this approach is not adopted, rural communities and more remote, off-grid areas could be the hardest hit.”

According to Holland, for rural homeowners to switch away from fossil heating such as oil or LPG to electrification, the networks in these areas could not cope with demand. “So, for ministers to keep favouring and pushing the likes of air source heat pumps in heat decarbonisation policy when the infrastructure does not exist and the level of investment is minimal, does not make sense,” said Holland.

“Even the network operators have themselves stated that they could resort to switching household power off using smart meters if there is too much pressure on the system.”

Holland believes biomass is being restricted and “vastly ignored” in future strategy when it is proven to be the most suitable and lowest carbon option available to homes and businesses.

“Add to this the huge benefits for the rural economy, i.e. creating sustainable working forests and new woodlands that fit with government ambitions, sustaining employment and a bioenergy supply chain of 46,000 jobs when most needed, and enabling consumers in challenging areas to easily switch to renewable energy for heating, it seems unfeasible that biomass is a very low priority,” added Holland.

“Biomass creates seven times more jobs than any other renewable technology, so why isn’t the government supporting it?”

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