Currently the burning of Biomass is designated as “CO2 neutral” by Western Nations to give the appearance of reducing CO2 emissions and thus controlling Climate Change. The designation of Biomass burning as being Carbon neutral is essentially self-defeating as:
- burning Biomass massively increases the instantaneous output of CO2 emissions.
- those instantaneous CO2 emissions from burning Biomass effectively cancels out any and all potential CO2 emissions savings from the deployment of Weather Dependent Renewable generation technologies.
- is hugely destructive of natural environments and habitats wherever harvested at the necessary industrial scale.
Germany and the UK are leaders in the development of Renewable Energy in Europe. This post uses 2019 hourly generation datasets showing the scale of various generation technologies over the year. It combines that power output data with data on the CO2 emissions of different fossil fuels to show the extent of CO2 emissions in 2019.
It questions the efficacy of using Biomass to reduce CO2 emissions at all, as:
In both contexts, the scale of CO2 emissions from Biomass cancels out any potential CO2 emissions savings made from using Weather Dependent Renewables.
The use of Biomass for generation the UK and Germany, has in fact increased CO2 emissions output and worsened the putative adverse warming effect on Climate.
So all the Green policies, the excess expenditures and the government subsidies for Biomass burning and Weather Dependent Renewables in both the UK and Germany have done nothing but increase Global CO2 emissions overall.
Comparison of CO2 emissions from Fossil fuels used in power generation
The characteristics of Fossil Fuels and Biomass resulting from their molecular structure, their production processes and their flammability determine their CO2 emissions characteristics as shown below:
- the least CO2 emissions for the power produced results from burning Natural Gas, which can be usefully derived from Fracking: this has been the origin of the massive CO2 emission reductions achieved in the USA.
- all forms of Coal produce roughly twice as much CO2 for the power they produce when compared to Natural Gas.
- however, the clear-felling forest lands, then using some of the timber itself or Fossil fuels for drying, processing and transporting the wood to burn in remote power stations results in roughly 3.6 times the CO2 emissions of Natural Gas for the same power output.
Realistic mechanisms for CO2 emissions reduction
The progress of decarbonisation since 1990 that has been made worldwide can be seen, expressed as CO2 emissions per head of population below.
It is clear from the chart above that there are only limited ways that effectively reduce CO2 emissions from power generation:
- the massive use of Nuclear energy, as in France where CO2 emissions / head have now diminished to a level below the Global average, following the French 50+ year commitment to Nuclear power. The French now have the lowest CO2 emissions value per head of any developed Nation. The French thus prove the point of the efficacy of using Nuclear power to limit CO2 emissions. Nuclear power has contributed to a CO2 reduction of ~200million tonnes per year since 1990, (~-28%). France now produces less than 1% of Global CO2 emissions, down from ~1.5% in 1990: this represents a reduction of 2019 Global CO2 emissions of ~0.6%.
- the transition from Coal to Gas-firing for power generation and a Fracking revolution, as in the USA, where annual emissions have reduced by ~1,600 million tonnes per year, (~-20%), since 2005. The USA now produces less than 15% of Global CO2 emissions, down from ~22% in the year 2000: this represents a reduction of 2019 Global CO2 emissions of ~4.7%.
- in the UK, the earlier 1990’s policy, “Dash for Gas”, substantially has replaced Coal for power generation by Natural Gas. This has contributed to a CO2 reduction of ~160 million tonnes per year since 1995, (~-30%). The UK is responsible for ~1.1% of Global CO2 emissions: this represents a reduction of 2019 Global CO2 emissions of ~0.47%.
Illogically these effective mechanisms for CO2 emissions reduction, were that a worthwhile objective, are rejected by “Green Thinking”. The use of Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind and Solar), may not have any direct fuel costs but they do heavily rely on the use of Fossil fuels for their manufacture, installation and maintenance. Even though their “fuel” is nominally free, Weather Dependent Renewables are not capable of achieving true CO2 neutrality.
The context for Western CO2 reduction policies
Electric power generation is responsible for roughly 1/4 of a developed Nation’s CO2 emissions the remaining 3/4 being emitted from space heating, transport and industry. So tackling the fossil fuels used for electricity generation only affects a part of the CO2 putative emissions problem. Coping with these other sources of CO2 emissions will prove to be much more problematic and much more costly to achieve.
It should be noted that in 2019 the EU(28) as a whole emitted less than 10% of the Global CO2 burden: Off that CO2 burden UK emissions were ~1.1% Global CO2 and Germany’s CO2 emissions amounted to about 2%. Whatever actions are taken by Western nations can only ever affect a marginal amount of the Global “CO2 emissions burden”, which is considered to be so damaging by Climate activist thinking.
So, any action in the Western world, where there is an aggressive movement to reduce CO2 emissions, can only be self-harming in the face of the inevitable growth in demand from the developing Nations requiring enhanced access to reliable electric power as they develop the well-being of their populations.
The primary Western government actions to try to limit CO2 emissions have been to mandate a change in the fuels used to generate electrical power. The Green thinking requires the substitution of fossils fuels, fully replacing them with nominally “CO2 emissions free” fuels such as Wind and Solar power as well as Biomass.
These power source substitution policies have already done proven damage to the reliability of Power grids in Germany, the UK, South Australia, Texas and California and they are making power supplies increasingly vulnerable wherever those policies are instituted. A low wind period in the UK and Europe in November 2020 came very close to causing the failure of the UK Grid, a calm, cold period this February in Texas rendered the Texas grid inoperable for more than a week with several million households without power and likely costs and damage exceeding that of a major hurricane. That damage was self-inflicted by policy not by climate.
The policy of promoting Biomass
Biomass power sources are designated to be sustainable and CO2 free by policy but not by rational thinking. Their rational being that burnt plant material may well regrow eventually reabsorbing the CO2 produced when they burn.
- is essentially self-defeating in the objective to limit CO2 emissions to “save the Climate”:
- in spite of being declared “Carbon neutral”, by EU and UK policy it is far from Carbon neutral in its effect: for the same power produced, burning Biomass releases much more CO2 than other fossil fuels, (Coal, Lignite and most particularly Natural Gas).
- is massively destructive of forest environments, wherever the wood is harvested. In Europe there is insufficient timber feedstock even to maintain partial power production.
- will require up to 100 years to fully restore the destroyed native forest wild-life habitat and virgin environments and to thus reabsorb the total CO2 that is released instantaneously by the burning of the Biomass in power plants.
- requires significant heat energy to dry and process the harvested wood material converting it into the pelletised, transportable product.
- requires significant fossil fuel use for long distance transport.
- has already required substantial, subsidised and costly refit of the generation and local fuel supply technologies at Drax where the UK Biomass is burnt.
- these factors in combination result in an additional, instantaneous CO2 release into the atmosphere of about 3.6 times that produced by burning Natural Gas for the same power output.
These comparative values are used to establish the CO2 emission consequences of trying to avoid Fossil fuel usage as opposed to harvested Biomass. The progress of decarbonisation since 1990 that has been made worldwide can be seen, expressed as CO2 emissions per head of population below.
Assessing the effectiveness of CO2 reduction policies
The transition from Coal / Lignite / Biomass to Natural gas would give significant CO2 emissions savings for both the UK and Germany. The USA has already made very substantial reduction in its CO2 emissions, ~-20% since the year 2000 by transitioning under market forces from Coal to Fracked Natural Gas for power generation .
However, in the UK Government Policy the transition to imported Biomass, rather than Coal, generating ~7% of its power output mainly at the Drax site adds the major part of excess CO2 emissions, ~29million tonnes per year for only ~7% of UK power output. On the other hand, the absolute maximum potential CO2 reduction achieved by the use of Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind and Solar) is about 20 million tonnes per year, (ignoring the CO2 output essential for their manufacture installation and maintenance).
Thus the policy to use of imported Biomass in the UK more than cancels out any potential CO2 emissions savings made by the use of Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind and Solar) and in addition directly increases nominally harmful CO2 emissions.
The table below summarises rough estimates the effectiveness of actions to reduce CO2 emissions by the two main protagonists in Europe, the UK and Germany. It assesses the UK power industry as only producing 20% of CO2 emissions because of the large input from low CO2 emitting Natural Gas-firing as opposed to other fossil fuels, whereas Germany is assessed at an estimated normal level 25% of CO2 emissions for its power industry.
It estimates firstly that the total transition to Natural Gas from other Fossil fuels could avert CO2 emissions:
- United Kingdom -23.2 million tonnes per year.
- Germany -72.9 million tonnes per year.
Thus, the policy of using Biomass with its excessive CO2 burden, effectively negates and cancels out any CO2 reductions that might be achieved by the use of Solar and Wind power in both the UK and Germany.
Parallel calculations are shown above for the German situation where there is still a heavy dependence on Coal and Lignite and to a lesser proportional extent Biomass used for power generation. Nonetheless German Biomass usage is slightly greater than the UK CO2 emissions level. German Biomass is both imported and also sourced from Germany’s indigenous forests, already causing significant habitat damage.
These simple calculations come close to proving that all investments in “low Carbon technologies” so far have achieved nothing towards CO2 reduction but have only increased CO2 emissions and power costs both in the UK and Germany.
United Kingdom CO2 emissions output 2019
The graphics below shows hourly mix of UK power Generation by technology during 2019. The average output is equivalent to ~28Gigawatts.
Since the “Dash for Gas Policy” in the 1990s, the predominant UK fuels for power generation have been Natural Gas and Nuclear. Using Coal for generation in the UK is now largely curtailed. It is in use only on occasions and provides ~2% of power output. Nonetheless the emergency reopening of Coal plants has saved the the UK Grid from failure on occasions in 2019 and 2020. This transition has reduced CO2 emissions as a result. UK CO2 emissions / head are now only 23% above the Global average.
Although the UK still has significant Nuclear generation, still providing ~22% of power output, most of those Nuclear plants will come to the end of their service lives before 2030. UK policies have been slow to replace that base load capacity with alternative base load power. But the UK on the other hand has significantly increased the installations of intermittent and unreliable Weather Dependent Renewables.
In 2019 the UK is also continuously dependent on ~7% of imported power, primarily importing Nuclear generated power from France. The UK dependence on power imports should be regarded as an existential risk to UK power supplies in the immediate future particularly since Brexit.
Coal-firing has been significantly substituted by the policy of using Biomass mainly imported from the East coast of the USA, where clear-felling of virgin forest fulfils the requirement. There is insufficient indigenous timber supply available from the UK itself.
The Drax Yorkshire power complex has been largely converted to burn wood pellets mostly imported from the USA, replacing its Coal generating plant. This provides about 7% of UK power. The substitution has been imposed by Government climate policies, which assert that imported Biomass is “Carbon neutral” as it will eventually reabsorb all the CO2 emitted. However that re-establishment process will take about 100 years, if ever, to restore the forest and natural habitats destroyed in the process.
Originally, the Drax power complex was intentionally sited on a still productive Coal seam. So, continuing to burn that Coal rather than imported Biomass would result in about half of the CO2 emissions for the same power output as burning imported Biomass. Recently in November 2020 ageing Coal-fired plants saved the UK Grid from failure. Those plants are all scheduled for closure within a few years in the name of saving the World from man-made Climate Change.
Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind Power Onshore and Offshore and Solar), already make up more than 55% of the installed UK generation fleet but they unreliably contribute only ~23% of the UK power produced. They achieve a combined productivity of ~21% overall. Wind and Solar are not dispatchable and provide power only when the sun shines and the wind blows at a suitable speed: that alone causes real problem for maintaining the consistent power supply essential to support a developed economy.
Note: these estimates of the scale of dispatchable generation installed assume that those Generation sources operate at their full productivity of 90% and may thus underestimate the size of their actual installations. The imposition and preferential use, by policy, of intermittent “Weather Dependent Renewable” generation technologies decreases the effectiveness, productivity and profitability of Dispatchable Gas or Coal plants and increases their maintenance costs.
The three CO2 emitting technologies in the UK are a large proportion of Natural Gas, very limited and occasional Coal generation and ~7% of continuous dispatchable power production from Biomass. That 7% Biomass generation output is responsible ~37% of the whole CO2 emissions from UK power generation. The policy that asserts that Biomass is CO2 neutral means that CO2 emissions are increased over the use of Natural Gas for power generation by an estimated 23 million tonnes per year.
The distribution and scale of the UK CO2 emissions over the year are shown below.
Germany CO2 emissions output 2019
The graphics below shows hourly values of German power Generation by technology in 2019. The average output is equivalent to ~65Gigawatts.
Germany has been pursuing its “die Energiewende policy” since 2011, as a result it has installed ~102GW of Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind and Solar), ~65% of the generation fleet. Those Renewables yield ~30% of German power but intermittently with an overall combined productivity of only ~19%. Germany has even opened a new Coal-fired power stations to help compensate its power deficit from its Nuclear closure policy.
In spite of its longstanding “die Energiewende” policy, Germany is still massively dependent on Fossil and CO2 emitting Fuels for its electricity generation:
- Natural Gas 16%
- Biomass 5%
- Coal 9%
- Lignite 19%
- CO2 emitting generation 48.8% of power output
This totals to some 49% of power generation. Coal and Lignite generation is increasing in Germany to compensate for its self-inflicted policy of closing Nuclear generators, still ~13% of the total productive fleet. The policy of Nuclear closures, prompted by the Fukushima disaster of 2011 will be completed early in this decade.
The “die Energiewende” may have reduced CO2 emissions somewhat. But German CO2 emissions at 8.4 tonnes per head per year are still 87% above the Global average and the highest of the EU(28), ~30% above the EU(28) average.
Germany still depends on significant Nuclear generation, providing ~12% of power output. But, since the Fukushima disaster, German policy has been phase out its Nuclear plants before the end of their useful service life, leaving a significant power generation deficit. German policy expects the power deficit to be compensated for by their fleet of intermittent Weather Dependent Renewables.
Germany has a significant power contribution from Biomass, ~4.6%. However, whether imported or from indigenous forest or not, it does already makes contribution to German CO2 emissions of ~20%.
Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind Power Onshore and Offshore and Solar) now make up more than 64% of the installed German generation fleet but they only unreliably contribute ~28% of the power produced.
Over production of power from excessive Wind power production in winter months means that Germany is forced to export that excess power to neighbouring countries, often at negative prices . This imposes a further cost burden on German power customers. Germany is also dependent on some imported power mainly Nuclear power from France in the summer when Wind power is production can be low.
The distribution and scale of the German CO2 emissions over the year are shown below.
- If CO2 emissions reduction were a rational aim to control “Climate Change”, transitioning to the use of Natural Gas for power generation is an effective means of CO2 emissions reduction, not elimination. Using Natural Gas does not meet the “Net Zero” ambitions of Climate activists.
- The use of imported Biomass in the UK and Germany is essentially self-defeating as a means to reduce CO2 emissions that might affect the Climate. The estimates above show that in the UK the Green policies for Renewables and Biomass actually result in additional CO2 emissions.
- In the UK the policy to use Biomass at Drax completely negates all CO2 emissions reduction efforts that might have been achieved using Weather Dependent Renewables, (Wind Power, Onshore and Offshore and Solar).
- As Germany is much more committed to Coal and Lignite use as well as its Biomass this negates the Wind and Solar investments with excess CO2 emissions of ~ 20million tonnes per year.
- Wherever the Biomass is sourced, remotely for example from Africa, North America, Indonesia, etc. the environmental damage that the industry causes is virtually irreparable even in the medium term.
The recent Michael Moore film made a telling point, that there is only enough forest timber in the whole USA to power its supply grid for a single year: and after that the forests are gone. Whereas Gas and other Fossil fuel reserves will still be available for the longer-term.
- All investments in Weather Dependent Renewables are obliterated by the contradictory CO2 reduction policies of burning Biomass, which serve to increase CO2 emissions both in the UK and Germany and everywhere else that they are used. An estimate of the additional costs imposed by the use of Weather Dependent Renewables throughout Europe can be seen:
- If governments institute policies and mandate their financial support, then businesses are bound to take advantage of the artificially created business opportunities even though they may be counterproductive.
- The continuing dependence on significant amounts of Fossil Fuels, Coal and Lignite, in Germany, make the Climate Change goals of “die Energiewende” very challenging, especially with their added policy of phasing out their CO2 emissions free Nuclear power generation over the coming few years.
- Importing Biomass, as in the UK, is imposing cost burdens on both the balance of payments and thus the clients of the power generation industry.
- All the expenditures on Weather Dependent Renewables combined with burning Biomass have actually increased CO2 emissions in the UK and Europe.
- The scale of the economic and incidentally “Climate” damage that has been achieved by Climate activists in the sentimental but effective termination of Fracking for Natural Gas in the UK and throughout Europe is massive.
An excellent way to undermine Western economies is to render their power generation unreliable and expensive. That objective of Green thinking is progressively being achieved by Government policy throughout the Western world but without any popular voter mandate.
This post gratefully uses the following data sources:
- Germany Renewables provided at hourly intervals
- United Kingdom Renewables output at 5 minute intervals, condensed to hourly intervals
- France Renewables output at 15 minute intervals, condensed to hourly intervals
- For the scale of EU(28) installations by the end of 2019, EurObserver’ER publish their Renewable Energy “Barometers” for each type of Renewable generation annually, for an example, see: