In 2012, we used a total of 3.3 million metric t of solid biomass to generate electricity and heat in our power stations or decentral plants mainly in Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Hungary. Large-scale use of biomass receives government subsidies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands for co-combustion in conventional power stations or for plants converted to biomass. Requirements for the sustainability of biomass used as fuel are being developed in these countries and at European level. Evidence of compliance has to be provided by means of certificates or some other form of verification. Since we primarily use wood pellets there, we are also committed to further developing appropriate certification systems for the supply chain of wood pellets.
A large proportion of the solid biomass used by RWE npower and Essent are wood pellets. These are procured by RWE Supply & Trading from international sources – around 2.4 million metric t in 2012. 98 % of these imported wood pellets were certified in accordance with the Green Gold Label or comparable standards during the reporting year. The remaining amount was local biomass sourced from the Netherlands.
RWE essentially uses the Green Gold Label established by Essent in 2002, a track and trace system and a certification programme for assurance of sustainable biomass sourcing. The Label is now registered through the independent Green Gold Label Foundation. The Foundation is also responsible for the criteria used and for communication with the stakeholders. To this end, the foundation was established in the year under review, a new multi-stakeholder governance structure was developed and contact was made with potential new members for the Advisory Board. In 2012, important US producer Enviva agreed to join as a representative of sector. Additional representatives, e.g. environmental protection groups, are likely to be welcomed as new members in 2013.
The sustainability criteria of the Green Gold Label are in complete conformity with EU biomass sustainability criteria and in May 2012 the Foundation applied for EU recognition of the label as an approved sustainability system under the Renewal Energy Directive. A similar recognition was granted to Green Gold Label by the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem at the beginning of 2012.
As a member of the Initiative of Wood Pellet Buyers (IWPB), RWE is also working on achieving standardisation in trade relations for the global wood pellet trade. Integration of sustainability requirements represents a special challenge. The member companies of the initiative include a substantial proportion of the European sales market for imported wood pellets. The aim of the initiative is to create prerequisites for a liquid global market for sustainable biomass. The initiative has developed standard solutions for contracts, technical specifications and sustainability criteria. The Green Gold Label and the certification systems used by other power companies will be integrated and adapted to the IWPB initiative during the course of 2013. The aim is to have an independent certification system with multi-stakeholder governance and supported by all the major European wood pellet users ready for use at the end of 2014.
Biomass and CO2 footprint
Most of the imported biomass originates from South-east USA and the Canadian province of British Columbia. RWE commissioned the German Biomass Research Centre and Utrecht University to prepare CO2 footprints for these two regions of origin.
The studies revealed the results set out here. Calculated over the whole life-cycle and supply chain, including for example emissions from drying, from fertilizer production and for transport across the Atlantic Ocean, the studies showed that biomass used to replace coal in advanced power stations in Western Europe led to a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 80 %. The reduction was 70 % compared with the European average for fossil-fired power production. The results are based on a method of calculation recommended by the European Commission.
Scientists and environmental protection groups believe that locking up CO2 by replanting to replace the trees used must occur quickly enough in order to exert a short-term effect for climate protection. According to the study by the University of Utrecht, the geographic and climatic conditions in the south of the USA encourage comparatively fast tree growth and therefore permit rapid resorption of the CO2 released by generating electricity from biomass. The wood pellets from British Columbia are made from timber-industry residues and logging remains from forests which would otherwise have been burned to avoid uncontrolled forest fires. Wood also comes from dead trees in forests severely affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The study showed that in all three cases, use as wood pellets for combustion in West European coal-fired power stations exerts a direct and substantial positive impact on the CO2 footprint.
A study also looked at sustainability risks in other geographical regions around the world. The comparison shows that the South-eastern USA and British Columbia have adequate government regulation and a forestry industry with a tradition of high standards, making them both good regions for sourcing biomass.
Biomass from regional sources
We are operating and setting up a number of small-scale biomass district-heating power plants in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy which source their fuel as waste wood and as virgin wood from regional forestry and agriculture. Regions with an intensive livestock industry, such as Münsterland (Germany) are ideal for the generation of biogas to be used in combined heat and power plants and also for feed-in to the local gas grid. RWE Innogy uses manure and slurry and this ensures that there is no competition with food production. In Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary we use biogenic fuels from regional sources as well for co-combustion at large-scale power stations.
Biomass from own production sources
We are also taking steps to safeguard electricity generation from biomass and in 2010 we set up our own wood-pellet plant in the US state of Georgia. In 2012, the plant supplied more than 600,000 metric t of wood pellets to Europe. Pellet quality has been increased. The sustainability of the pellets produced was certified by the Green Gold Label and by accredited forestry standards, for example FSC Controlled Wood and SFI Fiber Sourcing. The wood-pellet plant plays an important role in securing the supply of pellets for the converted power station at Tilbury in the United Kingdom and the Amer power station in the Netherlands.