Energy security and climate change mitigation are two of the most significant challenges facing governments in countries across the world. The United Kingdom (UK) government therefore passed the 2008 Climate Change Act that legally commits Britain to reducing ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG) emissions by 80% over 1990 levels by the year 2050. Bioenergy (as a potentially low carbon and renewable energy source) is recognised as having the potential to contribute to mitigating GHG emissions and, through utilising domestic biomass resources, can help Britain reduce its reliance on fuel imports and thereby enhance energy security. In order to help guide the UK towards achieving its ambitious targets, a number of forecasting studies have been carried out, each proposing different pathways to securing its 2050 GHG emissions reduction target. The extent to which bioenergy can contribute to future energy supply is appraised, given the biomass resources available to Britain. Analysis of three notable low or zero carbon energy scenario sets developed by, respectively, the British Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), and the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) enabled a comparative evaluation to be made of each projection and their realism. They reflect alternative modelling approaches that seek to meet the statutory 2050 carbon reduction target (BEIS and UKERC), to that (by CAT) of fully decarbonising Britain by 2030. The spotlight is on the use of dedicated energy crops and their implications, with a particular emphasis on the critical factors and issues of land availability, conversion technologies [including bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS)], and foreign imports. Likewise, the deployment of bioenergy resources may have significant deleterious impacts in terms of direct and indirect land use change, loss of biodiversity and the impairment of eco-system services, and competition with food production. A ‘gap analysis’ leads to recommendations for the improvement of the next generation scenarios and forecasts in order to provide more realistic projections for bioenergy uptake in the UK, although the lessons learned are applicable across much of the industrialised world. It was found that while all three low or zero carbon scenario studies had internal shortcomings from a bioenergy perspective, the analysis by BEIS stood out as having the greatest level of realism due to the account given to many of the critical factors and underlying issues relating to bioenergy uptake.
- Policy implications
- United Kingdom