BW Energy have published a new report on the attractiveness of biomass for Ireland as a means of achieving our 2020 targets rather than continuing with expensive and unreliable wind energy. The report can be accessed here :
Unlocking Ireland’s biomass potential –converting Moneypoint coal fired power station to sustainable biomass.
There are many interesting points made and two which really stuck out at me :
• Ireland has the best growing climate for forestry in Europe with substantial scope to expand due to low forest cover. With around 730,000 hectares under forest, Ireland is one of the least forested countries in the European Union (11% cover compared to an average of 18%) despite its climatic conditions being the best for biomass production. Indeed, according to the Paterson Climatic Index Ireland scores 10 ha/m3 annual biomass production potential whilst Finland, where 18% of energy is produced by biomass , rates only 3.8ha/m3 .
• According to the SEAI in 2011, 0.5 million m3 of forestry thinnings – a key potential source of sustainable biomass - was left uncollected on the Irish forest floor.
I've written about the advantages of biomass over wind energy here before - it provides dispatchable power, can be stored, not as weather dependent as wind, displacement of coal rather than gas etc. One thing the report doesnt really address is the increased use of oil as a result of harvesting the biomass but wind energy also increases dependence on oil. Indeed, Eirgrid have recently stated that capacity of demand side units, a fancy name for industrial diesel generators, have reached 230MW and is set to increase further (this after ESB closed down most of it's oil generating power stations!).
Installing more wind energy will certainly increase reliance on fast acting generators like diesel and open gas cycle turbines. Given that the agricultural industry is dependent on oil anyway, transferring 8% of total land to biomass production, probably won't change total oil dependence in the agricultural sector overall (and possibly there will be scope for some biofuels when biomass industry is up and running).
Biomass has been tried before in Ireland. In the late 70s, we signed an international agreement to run biomass trials for energy conversion :
Grants were given by the then EEC, and ESB and Bord Na Mona became interested in developing it. Crops grew quite well in good soil conditions but the planting of bogs became a complete failure. Biomass was ultimately abandoned in 1985. Des O'Malley's (Fianna Fail) nuclear plans were scuppered by Fine Gael in the early 80's who favoured coal power instead. Moneypoint power station very nearly ended up been powered by much cleaner and lower emitting nuclear energy but ended up coal fired in the end.
There is now a possibility of making amends for this and converting Moneypoint to biomass if BW Energy's plan turn out robust enough (I can't see too much wrong with it). The following article describes how the biomass trials failed in the late 70s / early 80s and argues that it was in fact a missed opportunity rather than a failure in biomass as a technology. Are we to miss that opportunity once again because of adherence to lesser technologies ?
Biomass Energy Crops - What Went Wrong (Irish Times, 1986 - click to expand)