According to a recent report in Argus Media, biomass-fired power generation bucked a downward trend in UK power demand, as production levels rose by 8.3% in 2020. This represents an increase from 17.96TWh in 2019 to 19.45TWh, data from UK Utility Drax and Imperial College London reveals.
Biomass power generation in the UK has continued to rise steadily over the past decade, from under 2.5TWh in 2012, to almost 20TWh in 2020. The growth during 2020 happened despite a dip during the last quarter, (4.1% lower on the previous year). The dip was largely due to an unplanned outage at EPH’s Lynemouth plant in October.
Biomass power accounted for 7.18% of the UK’s power generation in 2020, an increase from 6.26% in 2019. According to the Biomass UK website, this accounts for about 16% of the UK’s renewable electricity supply. It is hoped that by 2050, sustainably sourced bioenergy will provide up to 15% of the UK’s primary energy.
Biomass power is generated from plant-based fuels, such as wood pellets, wood chips, bioenergy crops and sometimes agricultural or domestic waste. It is classed as a renewable source because it uses residues of plants and trees grown for other purposes, and also purpose-grown crops.
The growth in the production of biofuels is driven by the ‘net zero’ legislation, which requires the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100%, relative to 1990 levels, by 2050. The UK would then be classed as a ‘net zero’ emitter. This will keep it in line with the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement to keep global warming under 2°C.
‘Net zero’ means a balance has been achieved between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced, and the amount removed from the atmosphere. The bulk of harmful gas emissions come from carbon dioxide, which is mainly produced by burning fossil fuels in coal power stations.
In early summer 2020, no coal-fired power was generated for two months, a record-breaking achievement. Just a decade before, 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal. The switch-off was partly enabled by the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, but it is also due to the massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade.
Drax power station in Yorkshire is the country’s biggest power plant, and generates 5% of the country’s energy. 10 years ago, it was the biggest consumer of coal in the UK, but has been switching to biomass fuel, in the form of wood pellets. The power station plans to completely phase out the use of coal by March next year.
There are potential hazards that occur when working with biomass fuels. One of the major risks is from noxious fumes which can build up in enclosed storage areas. The risk needs to be managed by controlling and monitoring who has access to these storage areas and ensuring adequate ventilation and atmospheric monitoring is in place. Training and safe working procedures around free flowing solids are also required.
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