Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Irish eco-targets still blowing in the wind

Barry Caslin

But farmers can help by increasing production of key biomass feedstocks

Biomass accounts for less than 2pc of Ireland's total final energy consumption, whereas it is nearly six times this figure (11.6pc) across the EU.

And Ireland will be the last country in the EU to introduce elevated prices for renewables such as Renewable Energy Feed In Tariffs (REFIT).

This is despite the fact that the introduction of sensible policies would tick so many boxes in terms of greenhouse gas abatement, job creation, developing land use alternatives and energy security. But without the right policy environment, it simply won't happen.

Ireland's Renewables Target

Under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland has a mandatory target to achieve 16pc of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This target will be made up of contributions from renewable energy in electricity, transport and heat and cooling.

There are also individual targets for each of these sectors. These targets are as follows:

- Renewables contribution to gross electricity consumption of 15pc by 2010 and 40pc by 2020.

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- Renewables (in the form of biofuels and the renewable portion of electricity) contribution to transport energy to be 3pc by 2010 and 10pc by 2020.

- Renewable contribution to heating and cooling to be 5pc by 2010 and 12pc by 2020.

The Irish Government has also set the following targets in order to achieve the overall 16pc target:

- 30pc co-firing with biomass at the three peat power stations by 2015.

- 800 MWe of combined heat and power by 2020.

How much will biomass contribute?

The above targets will be met by technologies such as wind or PV for electricity and geothermal or solar for heat. But how much will farmer-grown biomass crops contribute?

When looking at overall energy use in Ireland, the unit used is equivalent to one thousand tonnes of oil (ktoe). The latest predictions suggest that Ireland will be using a massive 12,123ktoe by 2020. Our EU target is to replace 16pc of that -- almost 1,940ktoe -- with renewable energy sources.

Energy analysts estimate that 2pc of our renewable electricity requirement will come from biomass, mainly through co-firing biomass at the peat stations and biogas production through anaerobic digestion (AD). The remaining 38pc will come from large- and small-scale wind farms and a small amount from photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. There are also two municipal solid waste (MSW) facilities combusting mainly biomass waste to energy and landfill gas facilities, which will contribute to the 2pc target.

Nine percent of the 10pc transport target is expected to be achieved mainly through imported biofuel and will provide an expected 383ktoe. The remaining 1pc will be delivered through electric vehicles running on renewable electricity (see the table, below).

The most difficult area to forecast is the percentage of biomass which will be used for heating and cooling. The Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI) of Ireland has projected 9.6pc from biomass, with the remaining 2.4pc coming from solar thermal and geothermal systems. Based on these figures, a massive 934.5ktoe (48pc of the 2020 targets) is expected to come from biomass.

What type of bioenergy systems?

The following list represents the main ways of getting energy from biomass:

- Electricity co-firing with biomass.

- Biomass to power.

- Anaerobic digestion (biogas) on farm and large centralised units.

- Biofuels (bioethanol, biodiesel, pure plant oil).

- Biomass heat only.

- Combined heat and power (CHP) large and small scale.

- Waste to energy -- power only.

- Waste to energy -- CHP.

- Biomethane -- converting biogas to transport fuel.

- Municipal sewage biogas.

- Landfill gas.

Agricultural Biomass Feedstocks

- Wood residues -- pulpwood, sawmill residues, forestry residues, recycled wood.

- Dry agricultural residues -- straw, poultry litter, spent mushroom compost.

- Wet agricultural residues.

- Industry residues -- sludge, fats, meat and bonemeal, food processing residues.

- Purpose-grown energy crops -- oilseed rape, cereals, sugar beet, short rotation coppice willow, miscanthus.

- Others -- recovered vegetable oil.

Renewable Electricity

Ireland has set itself a binding target to achieve a 40pc renewable energy share of total electricity supply by 2020. The vast bulk of this will come from wind, with the remainder (2pc) from CHP and anaerobic digestion CHP.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

Once REFIT is announced, there will be several CHP units which will be built between now and 2020 to fulfil targets on heat and electricity generation.

The biggest challenge for CHP units is usage of the heat. Ideally, the heat from these plants should be transported to the nearest town by district heating piping.

Peat Power Stations

There is a non-binding target of 30pc biomass to be used to co-fire Ireland's three peat burning stations at Edenderry, Shannonbridge and Lough Ree.

Edenderry is concerned that if it continues to use peat only then the plant has no future beyond 2015. Its public service obligation (PSO) is unlikely to be renewed after 2015 because of the high emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere associated with using peat as a fuel and the high level of subsidy required.

The other two peat power stations in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough (Lough Ree) have PSO protection until 2019 and 2020. Therefore, these two power stations are under less pressure to source biomass crops than the facility at Edenderry. Bord na Mona is offering contracts to farmers to grow willow to supply the Edenderry plant and meet its renewable electricity generating targets.

Supporting Biomass for Electricity

In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity sector, burning biomass crops in our peat-burning stations is 15 times cheaper than wind. Biomass in the form of woodchip or sawdust from forestry and energy crops is also carbon neutral.

Ireland will introduce a Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff (REFIT), which will be similar to the UK's Renewable Obligation Certification (ROC). It is hoped that this will be the key to reaching our renewable energy targets for electricity.

Proposed REFIT is 9.5c/kWh for energy crops and 8.5c/kWh for woodchip. We still don't know how the 9.5c/kWh will be distributed and it appears that a portion of this will be needed by the power station to allow for increased capital investment to modify the plant to handle biomass together with peat. It will be difficult to make any progress until the full terms of the REFIT is defined.

REFITs have also been set for combustion CHP and anaerobic digestion CHP. However, the proposed rates, which are yet to be implemented, will be a long way from the equivalent available in Britain, Germany and Northern Ireland, where the payment is almost double that available here. It is so low that it will limit the uptake of such technologies and prevent the use of energy crops.

The bioenergy action plan had set a target for 5pc renewable heat by 2010 and 12pc renewable heat by 2020. We only achieved 4pc renewable heat by 2010. The greener homes scheme was expanded in 2007 with grant aid for pellet and chip stoves for domestic houses. The bioheat scheme was also expanded for commercial boilers. However, due to austerity cutbacks, the support for biomass boilers for heating has been discontinued.

Ireland needs to develop new ways of generating renewable energy in all sectors. Last year, the UK introduced a Renewable Heat Incentive, which will put a demand on the installation of biomass boilers whereby a payment would be made on an annual basis per kW (kilo Watt) of heat delivered through a biomass boiler.

The original biofuel target of 5.75pc by 2010 was subsequently reduced to 3pc. The target for 2020 is still 10pc.

The original biofuel tax relief measures failed to promote domestic production or improve security. Instead, many companies never produced biofuel in Ireland but imported and sold it here with tax relief.

Biofuel Obligation Scheme

The biofuel scheme was phased out at the end of December 2010 and replaced by the Biofuel Obligation Scheme (BOS) to ensure Ireland reaches its 10pc liquid biofuel target by 2020.

The BOS puts a requirement on the fuel companies to supply 4pc of their annual turnover from biofuels. Certificates are awarded to biofuel producers which could, in theory, be sold to the fuel companies to help meet their 4pc target.

The problem for Irish biofuel producers is that the fuel majors are buying pre-blended fuel through the UK and Rotterdam, sidestepping requirements to buy certificates from Irish biofuel producers. As a result, all bar one of the rapeseed crushing plants, bioethanol production and all biodiesel plants have now been mothballed.

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