This week European Union leaders have been debating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and they have a firm commitment to achieve at least a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. Furthermore, they will increase energy efficiency in the EU so as to achieve the objective of saving 20% of the EU's energy consumption compared to projections for 2020,
Central to this is a binding target of a 20% share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020 and a 10% binding minimum target to be achieved by all Member States for the share of biofuels in overall EU transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020.
Leaving aside the controversy generated by Channel 4’s film – whether CO2 reduction is possible or worth while – there must still be doubts about whether any of this is achievable. Elsewhere in this blog I have commented on how biofuels are much less green than people would like to think. Biofuel crops absorb CO2, but growing, harvesting and processing them takes up so much energy that the net gain is small or in some cases negative. Growing the crops puts pressure on food crops or rain forests, and to some extent we will burn green fuels while exporting the disadvantages of the fuels to third world countries where the crops are grown.
Biomass is part of the way towards reaching the EU’s 20% target. Today Drax Power, which runs the UK’s largest power station, announced plans to grow biomass on an area equivalent to one fifth of the land of Wales. This will produce sufficient fuel to provide 10% of the requirements of Drax. The station produces 8% of the UK’s electricity, so biomass will account for just 0.8%. If we took over the whole of Wales to grow biofuel crops we would still only achieve 4% of the UK’s electricity – and where would we put the Welsh? -