Around three-quarters of the world’s renewable energy is from biomass. Bioenergy accounts for about 10 per cent of total final energy consumption and two per cent of global power generation.
In the United States and the European Union, bioenergy accounts for 60 per cent of all renewable energy. In fact, over the past 20 years, bioenergy is responsible for the most greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, much in the form of bioheat, which has a 90 per cent share of the EU renewable heating market. Given these impressive statistics, it is remarkable how bioenergy is so often overlooked as a renewable energy solution.
Bioheat dominates in these jurisdictions because it is affordable, proven, reliable, and supports the forest sector and local economies. At $275/tonne is $0.065/kWh bioheat from Canadian wood pellets are approximately 50 per cent cheaper than New Brunswick’s current residential price for electricity. Despite these potential savings and the fact that the Maritime provinces experience some of the highest rates of energy poverty in Canada, imported heating oil remains more popular than wood pellets. This is perplexing considering that heating oil is both a high cost and a leading regional GHG emissions source.
Take New Brunswick, for instance, which is electricity supply-constrained; biofuels make up only 21 per cent of energy consumption in the province. It also has amongst the largest electricity demand peaks in North America but lacks the low-carbon dispatchable resources of other jurisdictions. In fact, 30 per cent of New Brunswick’s electricity is fueled by coal, fossil gas, or heavy oil. Ironically, the greener solution lies in the province’s own sustainably managed forests.
New Brunswick is home to five wood pellet plants that produce approximately 350,000 tonnes per year. This fuel has an energy content of over six Peta Joules (PJ) and could replace all electricity, heating oil and natural gas consumed by commercial and institutional buildings in New Brunswick. However, due to little local demand and lagging public policy, over 90 per cent of its wood pellet production is exported. Most of these exports are destined for Europe, where customers value the quality and environmental credentials of these pellets and their role in realizing significant GHG reductions. As a result, the province also forgoes 1.3-1.7 Mt CO2 per year (10 to 14% of New Brunswick’s total) in GHG reductions. These results make for a compelling case as the New Brunswick government will soon release its new Climate Change Action Plan.
Science shows that when you increase the demand for bioheat, you also contribute to better managed forests. In Sweden, bioenergy, largely in the form of wood, provides 37 per cent of the energy supply. Since 1990, Sweden’s bioenergy consumption has doubled, and, at the same time, its standing timber volume has increased by 40 per cent. This increase in standing timber volume is not despite bioenergy, but because of it.
Bioheat could also play a key role in Nova Scotia. According to a recent feasibility study by M&R Engineering in Halifax, local sawdust and forest residuals could help Nova Scotia convert more than 100 public buildings to clean, sustainably-produced wood pellets for heat instead of GHG-intensive oil furnace systems.
Nova Scotia’s Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act has a goal to decrease greenhouse gas emissions across Government-owned buildings by 75 per cent by 2035. With heating and domestic hot water accounting for close to half of the energy use in commercial and institutional buildings in Atlantic Canada, eliminating furnace oil is essential to achieve this target. The M&R study, funded by the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, Shaw Renewables and Nova Scotia Public Works, demonstrates that switching to a biomass fuel source will help to achieve the 75 per cent target easily as they are the cleanest fuel source with negligible emissions.
Turning sawmills and harvesting residuals and low-quality logs into responsible, renewable energy just makes sense in today’s world. Maritime wood pellets have garnered global respect as a responsible and effective way to displace fossil fuels, tackle climate change, and heat homes and buildings. Wood pellets can deliver all that and more in Canada’s Maritimes, including supporting local economies, creating jobs, meeting local climate targets, and enhancing forest health.
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada believes the time has come for wood pellets to play a stronger role domestically, but it will require coordination from all levels of government and the industry, a willingness to think outside of traditional heating solutions and learning from other jurisdictions, and a commitment to invest in a better, more sustainable future for all.
Gordon Murray is the executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.
Photo Credit: BSB Heating, Group Savoie. This Groupe Savoie Pellet Plant in Saint-Quentin, New Brunswick, is one of five wood pellet plants in the province that could play a significant role in supplying bioheat to businesses and homes and help reduce GHGs by switching from imported fossil fuels to locally sourced renewable energy.