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Published: 15 october 2019 14:44

Bioenergy in Lithuania - let's learn to be proud of what we can really be proud of!

Biokuras
„Baltpool“ nuotr. / Biofuel

Addressing world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda assured of Lithuania's full support for the transition to renewable energy. The President highlighted Lithuania's success in the district heating (DH) sector replacing natural gas with Bioenergy, which allowed not only significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but also to reduce heat prices in Lithuania.

At the same time, Lithuania launched the Global Initiative "Transition to Sustainable Heating", which aims to spread the message about Bioenergy and its environmental and economic benefits, share sustainable heating technologies and expertise in jointly developed instruments to ensure the highest standards for biomass quality and sustainability. The President also welcomed the fact that Lithuania's initiative has already been supported by a number of countries, including Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Georgia and Latvia. More countries should join in the near future.

After President's speech, criticism appeared. There were comments which denied the economic benefits of Bioenergy, criticized sustainability aspect, called Bioenergy not “green” enough.

I understand that critics can criticize the President. The sympathies or antipathies of each individual are his or her personal affair. However critics should not mislead people and base their opinion on emotions – not facts.

And what are the facts?

Lithuania's success story in replacing fossil fuels with biomass in DH system is a world-wide success story and it is certainly worth telling.

Similarly to Lithuania, a small proportion of fossil fuels in DH are used by countries such as Sweden or Denmark, but the share of fossil fuels in district heating in Lithuania has been declining at particularly rapid rates. In 2011, 75.8% of heat in DH was generated from fossil fuels in Lithuania; in 2013 – 63,2 %; in 2015 – 37,1 and in 2018 only 30,7 % heat was generated from fossil fuels - the production of heat from biomass increased proportionally. It is expected that by 2020 Lithuania will produce 80 – 85 % of heat in DH from Bioenergy.

We really have something to be proud of. And we certainly have experience to share. From the creation of regulatory environment that encouraged business to invest in Bioenergy, to Bioenergy technology itself. Lithuania over the last decade established a new Bioenergy technology manufacturing industry with annual exports of more than € 100 million. Biofuel technologies produced in Lithuania are purchased in the Western European market, where there are extremely strict requirements for quality and sustainability. More than 7500 people are employed in technological companies and production and supply of biomass. The average salary is 50% higher in this sphere of Lithuanian economy, comparing to the average. And the money previously paid to gas and oil importers now remains in Lithuania.

Lithuania has already reached the targets of the EU Directive regarding the Incentives for Consumption of Renewable Energy Resources for Lithuania to increase this rate to 23 % until 2020. In 2017 the share of RES in total energy consumption was 26 %. It even allowed for Lithuania to transfers a share of renewable energy statistics to Luxembourg for € 8 million. If not for the development of Bioenergy in DH sector, we would now only have an 18% of RES figure in total energy consumption and we would have to think from which countries to buy the missing percentage with taxpayer’s money.

The replacement of natural gas in the DH sector with biomass has reduced CO2 emissions to around 1.3 million tons per year. This brings us significantly closer to our total goal - CO2 emission reduction. Bioenergy is carbon neutral: carbon that plants photosynthesize is then released with combustion, if forest is left untreated CO2 emissions will not be reduced, CO2 and other greenhouse gases will be released during the decay process.

Regarding the impact of switching from natural gas to biomass on heat prices for consumers. September heat prices in Lithuania can be compared year by year in the same city. Fo example in Kaunas city (second largest city in Lithuania) heat price in 2012 September was 9,79 ct/kWh; in 2014 - 5,12 ct/kWh; in 2016 - 4,92 ct/kWh. Today price is 3,84 ct/kWh.

We see a drop in prices ranging from 35% to 60%, largely due to the replacement of more expensive gas with cheaper biomass. From January 2014 to January 2019, the price of natural gas paid by heating companies only increased.

Most European Union countries face the problem that, as the share of renewable energy in electricity is growing, natural gas is still predominant in heating. Lithuania certainly has something to advise other EU countries.

And, finally, the fear that Bioenergy use for heat production leads to deforestation.

This is certainly not the case. Not one mature and healthy tree in Lithuania was cut down for Bioenergy production. And not only for the ecological awareness, but for the simple reason - logs are expensive!

Bioenergy includes firewood, branches, tops, as well as waste from the wood industry.

It would be foolish of a forest owner to use spruce, pine or birch logs, which currently cost 50 to 55 € per cubic meter in Lithuania, as firewood, which costs about 16 € per cubic meter. Logs are chopped into firewood or biofuel only if they cannot be sold to wood processors. For example if they are rotten or curvy.

At best, biomass accounts for 6-7 % of total revenue from felled wood. All basic income is income from the sale of logs and pepperwood. Not always logging waste is removed from the forest. Very often biomass is simply left, either because it is difficult to remove it, or because it is protected by environmentalists to leave some branches and tops on the forest floor.

Demand for Bioenergy therefore has no impact on deforestation volumes. In fact, when the Lithuanian Ministry of Environment decided to increase logging volumes in Lithuania a year ago, the Lithuanian Biomass Energy Association LITBIOMA and the Lithuanian Renewable Energy Confederation even opposed these decisions. It is in the interest of the Lithuanian Bioenergy industry that all biomass used in Lithuania would have certificates that ensure that no cubic meter burned has harmed the environment. Existing forestry volumes are fully and surplus enough to meet the demand for Bioenergy in Lithuania

Presenting Lithuania's achievements in the field of Bioenergy at international conferences, I receive many compliments from my foreign colleagues. Let's learn to be proud of what we can really be proud of!

Martynas Nagevičius is the president of the Lithuanian Renewable Energy Confederation

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