Current debates about the reliability of wind and solar power for electricity generation, the possibility of extra interconnectors between SA and Victoria, the withdrawal of some of South Australia’s largest power stations and rising power prices overlook a resource that South Australia has in abundance. A resource that is accessible, economically sensible, sustainable and renewable.
It’s called bioenergy.
Bioenergy utilises biomass such as wood waste, offcuts and residues from existing forestry and forest product operations to create energy for electricity and heat. In South Australia, we have vast sustainably managed forest areas with associated forest product enterprises that produce significant woody residues that could be used to create bioenergy. There are opportunities for biomass to fuel electricity generation or produce process heat that has traditionally been fuelled from fossil-fuel energy. Some existing fossil-fuelled plants can potentially be replaced with, or co-fuelled by wood waste with minimal conversion.
The United Nations recognises that the use of bioenergy does not make a net contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere, so long as forests are renewed. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation describes wood as “the most important single source of renewable energy”, and “as important as all other renewable energy sources altogether (hydro, geothermal, wastes, biogas, solar and liquid biofuels).”
And yet Australia barely uses bioenergy produced from wood waste at all.
Bioenergy – the world’s largest renewable energy source – accounts for 77% of all renewable energy globally and woody biomass accounts for 87% of that figure. The International Energy Agency estimates that bioenergy could provide 7.5% of world electricity generation by the year 2050, and heat from bioenergy could provide 15% of global final energy consumption in industry and 20% of total consumption in the building sector.
If there is any doubt left, it should be allayed by the group of scientists who advise the UN climate change talks: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 4th Assessment) considers that over the long term, a sustainably managed working forest, with carbon stored in products and residues used for energy, is actually one of the very best things we can and should do about climate change.
South Australia needs a long-term sustainable energy strategy. Wind and solar provide intermittent renewable generation but biomass is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Clearly, bioenergy should be in the renewable mix.
Clare Scriven is State Manager of the South Australian branch of the Australian Forest Products Association.
08.03.2016 Bioenergy should be in the renewable mix