Biomass is a generic term for any organic material that can be used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuel. In DECC’s 2011 Renewable Energy Roadmap, it is seen as a key contributor in helping the UK meet the UK’s climate change obligations. Government estimates that biomass could contribute 21% of the UK’s target of generating 15% of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Biomass-generated electricity is set to from 1 per cent to 3.5 per cent of the Britain’s total electricity consumption by 2016. Beyond 2016, analysts have suggested biomass has the potential to continue this rapid growth rate to become a key component of Britain’s energy generation.
Biomass is considered to be economically competitive in comparison to other low-carbon technologies. According to DECC, excluding biomass from the energy mix would significantly increase the cost of decarbonising the energy mix. Biomass still requires upfront support which is provided through financial incentives such as Renewables Obligation Certificates and Feed-in Tariffs and the Renewable Heat Incentive.
There have been studies questioning the environmental impact of using biomass both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land use. There are, therefore, risks and uncertainties associated with biomass. DECC’s Biomass Strategy identifies these as: whether it genuinely contributes to carbon reductions; the availability and price of sufficient sustainably-sourced biomass; the relationship between bio-energy and other uses of land, such as food production, and other uses of biomass, such as for construction materials; the environmental impacts on air quality, biodiversity and water resources.