How will bioenergy contribute to net zero 2050?

Alasdair Grainger, Net Zero Director at Grant Thornton UK LLP, looks at how bioenergy will contribute to net zero 2050.

The UK Government released a host of documents in the immediate run up to COP26 earlier this month. Across thousands of pages, Ministers outlined large numbers of new initiatives, funding mechanisms and policies to convince readers that they have a plan to deliver Net Zero by 2050.

Yet one area on which little ink was spilled is the bioenergy and waste sector. Why is this?

In part this answer perhaps lies in how the Cabinet is structured. Kwasi Kwarteng, coming to the end of his first year in charge of the business (and energy) department, BEIS, has his fair share of challenges, with this weeks’ state rescue of energy provider Bulb topping off an incredibly busy period.

Net zero is a pan-departmental effort, but the hard yards have been put in by BEIS officials and as a result, sectors well understood by the department feature extensively.

For waste and bioenergy, the quality of collaboration is materially lower, consisting of promises of strategies to come, and repeats of the already announced Resources and Waste Strategy

When a sector falls to a different department to deliver, the result is more mixed. The net zero strategy has seen impressive coordination between BEIS and the Department for Transport (that latter restructuring to manage the increased net zero effort), which has led to a plethora of new initiatives including support electric vehicles, the Jet Zero Taskforce and increased support for Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Yet for waste and bioenergy, the quality of collaboration is materially lower, consisting of promises of strategies to come, and repeats of the already announced Resources and Waste Strategy.

The Government has not provided a view on how bioenergy plays into their plans since 2012. While much has moved on in a decade, many of the recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change – addressed in the 2012 Strategy – remain valid today.

Government will publish a new Bioenergy strategy “by the end of 2022”. What might this contain?

  1. Bioenergy for power has played a significant role helping the UK to decarbonise, driven in the main by the Renewables Obligation (a scheme now closed). We expect subsidy to end in 2027 and for no direct replacement to be forthcoming.
  2. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – in an echo of the 2012 review, the new strategy is likely to focus on the value that BECCS can provide on the path to 2050 – as one of the few carbon negative options available (while untested at scale) all the scenarios in the Net Zero Strategy see this technology playing a considerable role. We would expect support in a similar manner to current plans for a dispatchable power agreement to support gas generation with CCS. The tenor of the contract will be key, as will the choice of index used to inflate tariffs.
  3. Sustainable Bioenergy – a hotly debated topic, expect criteria to be included in any new support package and a ratcheting up of standards. With Biomass set to play a large role in Net Zero, HMG needs to minimise the risk of negative press coverage.
  4. Energy from Waste – with CCS? The only mentions of EfW in the Net Zero strategy are in the context of residual emissions (i.e. what is left once the cost-effective carbon is removed from the system) and a passing reference to Energy from Waste with CCS. While HMG is putting significant financial support towards CCS, there are no operational units in the UK and how quickly such a technology could be adapted for existing assets remains unclear. Even if retrospective installation is feasible, CCS reduces overall efficiency and significantly increases costs.


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