Maximising the uptake of sustainable bioenergy for a truly competitive and stable European energy system

By Maija Lepistö, Communications Assistant, Bioenergy Europe

In its “Fit for 55” Package, the European Commission is setting a higher target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the pillars of the package is the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (REDIII), which proposes a sharp shift in EU energy policies with a 40% share of renewables by 2030. With the recently presented REPowerEU plan, this target is raised to even 45%.

This represents a crucial element for Europe’s contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals and an opportunity to address the decarbonisation and modernisation of fossil fuels intensive sectors where carbon emissions are difficult to abate, such as industry and transport.

As recognised by European and international scenarios, the penetration of clean alternatives like sustainable bioenergy needs to be accelerated to reach climate neutrality. Bioenergy is in the driver’s seat of this green revolution, representing almost 60% of all renewables and 11% of all energy consumption in Europe.

The number of citizens and industries that rely on bioenergy will increase, as further development of this renewable source is required to achieve the EU energy and climate targets for 2030 and 2050.

Bioenergy is essential for a sustainable energy transition, contributing to the European GDP more than all other renewables combined. Supplying over 950 000 direct and indirect jobs across more than 50 000 businesses, most of which are SMEs, bioenergy provides more than 40% of all jobs in the European RES industry. Combined with an annual turnover of €60.6 million and a net worth of €5 billion, bioenergy is essential for the European bioeconomy. According to a recent study by Deloitte, the sector provides local jobs and economic growth. It is estimated that each additional Mtoe of biomass for energy could lead to an impact of €359 million in terms of GDP and an employment creation of 7.376 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE), on average, while preventing 2,4 MtCO2eq emissions due to the replacement of fossil fuels for energy.

Bioenergy has concrete environmental benefits, as it allowed to save 285 MtCO2eq – equivalent to around 8,5% of the EU27 GHG emissions in 2019 – which corresponds to Romania’s annual emissions of the same year. The primary savings were made in the heating sector with over 160 MtCO2eq, followed by bioelectricity and biofuels for transport.

Millions of European citizens rely on bioenergy to heat their homes through individual heating systems and collective systems, like district heating. Moreover, many industrial processes within the bio-based economy, such as the paper and pulp industries, rely on reusing their process residues to supply energy to their operations, nearby industries, and communities. This positively impacts emissions reduction and promotes a more circular economy. Bioenergy is a domestic asset for the EU energy mix, with an import rate of only 3,7%, relying on supply from trusted international partners. The replacement of imported fossil fuels with domestic renewable energy improves the security of the energy supply and reduces the risk of provision challenges resulting from the socio-political context in foreign countries.

Additionally, the further deployment of bioenergy in the EU’s energy mix comes with price stability benefits, a key factor for energy security. The cost of biomass for energy proves to be more stable and

cheaper than fossil fuels over time. An increase in the natural gas price results in an immediate price increase of electricity, which, coupled with the difficulty of prices forecasting, puts citizens and the industry at risk of fluctuating energy costs. In turn, this can increase energy poverty and decrease the competitiveness of the European industry.

The current legislative review on bioenergy sustainability should ensure that biomass is sourced and used sustainably and provide clear and workable definitions enabling a willing and capable bioenergy sector to operationalise the resulting requirements successfully and thus actively contributing to reaching the EU climate targets and energy security.

The EU also needs to ensure via a phasing in of the sustainable requirements that all market players, from leading companies to the numerous SMEs, have adequate time to comply with these new obligations. Sufficient time is also needed to develop, evaluate, and mainstream the necessary tools to verify this compliance.

The gas price spikes beginning of 2022, followed by the war in Ukraine have highlighted the fragility of Europe’s energy system, heavily relying on fossil fuel imports. The more urgent is the transition away from fossil fuels towards green and sustainable solutions. As Commission Vice-President Timmermans stated, it is more urgent than ever that Europe becomes the master of its own destiny, increases its resilience and sovereignty, and continues to lead the world in facing the climate crisis.

The sustainable growth of bioenergy in Europe will be essential in the coming decades to succeed in the energy transition, which means providing a stable legal framework to ensure a sufficient level of trust for businesses and investors.

Author bio

Maija Lepistö is a Communications Assistant at Bioenergy Europe. Previously she studied at Tampere University, gaining her MA in Multilingual Communication and Translation Studies.

DISCLAIMER: Published by the European Liberal Forum. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the European Liberal Forum. 

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