IEA Bioenergy Countries’ Report – Update 2021

Nov 2021
Publications

The IEA Bioenergy member countries have distinct characteristics that impact their renewable energy and bioenergy potential. Country size and population density, as well as topography, climatic conditions and land use distribution are particularly important. Countries with low population density tend to have higher potential availability of domestic biomass resources, while countries with high population density tend to rely much more on imports for their energy and resource requirements.

Individual country reports are available at https://www.ieabioenergy.com/blog/publications/2021-country-reports/

Energy mix

In the overall energy supply, coal, oil, and natural gas still play a dominating role in most countries. Only in Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland do renewable energy and nuclear energy represent more than half of total energy supply.

  • There is a strong decreasing trend of coal in many countries, particularly in Europe and North America. Nevertheless, coal still represents a major part of the energy mix in Asian countries, Australia, and South Africa.
  • Oil has a substantial and relatively stable role in all countries, particularly in relation to its use in transport.
  • Natural gas also has a substantial role and has reached similar or higher levels than oil in several countries. Since 2015, most of the countries had an increase of natural gas use – in several cases the increase in natural gas compensated (part of) the reduction of coal.
  • Apart from countries with elevated levels of hydropower (Norway, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland), bioenergy represents more than half of renewable energy supply in most countries.

Biomass types

Solid biomass remains the dominating type of biomass used for energy in all countries, but liquid biofuels, renewable waste and biogas/biomethane are also relevant.

  • Countries with the highest use of solid biomass for energy tend to have a high domestic forest area per capita and important wood processing industries, while their forests are still expanding.
  • A few countries with limited domestic forest biomass potential (the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, and Denmark) rely on solid biomass imports for energy – these countries have imposed sustainability requirements to (large scale) biomass use to mitigate some of the risks related to biomass sourcing from outside the country (which they cannot control with domestic forest policies).
  • The amount of MSW used for power and/or heat production is clearly linked to the stage of waste management development in a country, which is quite advanced in Scandinavia and West Europe where performant collection systems have been implemented and landfill is almost completely phased out.
  • Germany is most advanced in biogas/biomethane Nevertheless, other countries are catching up; particularly Denmark has taken major steps in biogas/biomethane lately. Biogas used to be primarily used directly for CHP generation; the raw gas is now more and more upgraded and fed into the gas grid. While biogas/biomethane use peaks above 25% of natural gas use in Denmark, it tends to be equivalent to 1-5% of natural gas use in most countries, showing that major steps will still be needed to phase out fossil gas.
  • Liquid biofuels are on the rise, particularly as transport fuel. In Brazil and Sweden, the use of liquid biofuels is already equivalent to more than 15% of fossil oil use (for transport and heat production). In most other countries liquid biofuel use is equivalent to between 2 and 5% of fossil oil use, showing that major steps will still be needed to phase out fossil oil.

Renewables and bioenergy in different sectors

Bioenergy plays a role in the three main energy sectors: electricity, fuel/heat consumption and transport energy consumption. Particularly for heat and transport bioenergy/biofuels are the dominant renewable energy type.

  • The main growth of renewable electricity in the past decade has been in wind power, followed by solar power and biomass-based power. In Denmark, Finland and Estonia, bioenergy represents more than 15% of electricity production (predominantly through combined heat and power – CHP), followed by the UK, Sweden, Germany and Brazil. In other countries, typical levels of biomass-based electricity are 2-5%.
  • For most countries solid biomass is the dominant fuel to produce bioelectricity. However, in Germany, Italy and Croatia bioelectricity is mainly produced from biogas. In Switzerland renewable MSW is the dominant fuel for bioelectricity.
  • The main support systems for renewable power have been feed-in tariff systems and obligations connected with tradable green certificates. Recently there is a trend to work with tender systems on a competitive basis. A point of attention is that, apart from the production cost per MWh, policy actions also need to reflect the multiple benefits of using bioenergy for electricity, including rural development, waste management and dispatchability.
  • In most of the analysed countries fossil fuels still dominate in fuel/heat provision, typically exceeding 75% of total fuel/heat provision. Biomass is the dominant type of renewable heat. The most important progress in renewable heat has been made in countries with important shares of district heating (Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Finland), particularly through the replacement of fossil fuels by biomass for centralised heat production.
  • The main support systems for renewable heat have been subsidies for renewable heat projects and financial support for domestic renewable heat instalment. Several countries (particularly in Scandinavia) have implemented a CO2 tax on fossil fuels which was an important driver for industries (and heat producers) to move from fossil fuels to bioenergy.
  • Fossil fuels still represent over 95% of transport energy in most countries. This reflects the challenge to displace fossil fuels in the transport sector. Brazil and Sweden have achieved a renewable energy share in transport of 25% and 21%, respectively, with Norway and Finland also reaching more than 10%. Most other countries have renewable shares of 4 to 6% or lower.
  • Biodiesel (including an increasing share of HVO) and bioethanol are the dominant biofuel types. Bioethanol is mainly important in countries with high shares of gasoline cars (Brazil, USA, Canada). Biodiesel gains attention with the increased focus on heavy duty transport, which relies on diesel fuel. There is an increasing trend to advanced (residue based) biofuels and drop-in biofuels to avoid blend walls (ethanol limits in gasoline and FAME limits in diesel).
  • The main support systems for biofuels are tax incentives for biofuels and blending obligation systems. More systems start to be based on the carbon intensity of the fuels, e.g., the Californian Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or RenovaBio in Brazil. There is also support for (advanced) biofuel production facilities to move from pilot to commercial production.
  • Renewable electricity is considered as an important option in transport, particularly towards the coming decades and mainly in the light duty segment. As of today, electricity use only represents between 0.1 and 4% of transport energy (currently mostly in rail), with the renewable share depending on the national electricity mix. Sales of electric cars are substantially increasing in recent years and several regions put high targets on EV sales. Nevertheless, with different EV introduction speeds in different regions and considering typical vehicle lifetimes of over 10 years, the replacement of the car fleet will take time so fuels will still be needed for the car sector in the next few decades; moreover, the heavy-duty sector will still remain dependent on (predominantly diesel type) fuels for quite some time. So renewable fuels will remain an important option to displace fossil fuels in transport.

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