Is burning wood really a sustainable energy source?

Experts and most politicians agree: renewable energy sources will have to be massively expanded in the coming years. Only in this way can we leave the era of fossil energy production behind us. But no matter how clear this basic orientation is, there are always discussions about detailed questions. This starts with the supposedly simple question of what counts as a renewable energy source and what does not. This discussion is currently fueled by the use of wood for electricity and heat generation. There are actually two positions here. Some point out that every time a tree is felled, it creates wood waste that simply cannot be used in any other way. The use for energy production thus contributes to the economical use of the forest. Others warn that sooner or later not only will waste products be incinerated but trees and forests will also be cut down to meet the demand for pellets.

The EU Parliament has decided against drastic changes

The European Union is now also addressing this issue. There, the European Commission initially proposed to simply remove primary biomass from the Renewable Energy Sources Directive. Corresponding installations would then no longer receive funding and would no longer be able to monetize the EU Emissions Trading System. The EU Parliament, on the other hand, initially wanted to remove wood as a sustainable source of energy in any case. However, things went differently in the final vote: the MPs voted in favor of maintaining the previous arrangement. However, the matter is not quite over. Because now an agreement still has to be reached in the so-called trilogue with the Member States and the European Commission. It is therefore quite unlikely that operators of local heating installations and wood-based power-generating installations will have to foresee significant savings. Ultimately, the responsibility still lies with the Member States: they must ensure sustainable forest use.

Biomass plays an important role in the energy transition

However, the discussion also highlights a special topic. When it comes to expanding renewables, there is always a lot of discussion about wind and solar. In fact, however, biomass plays a hugely important role, especially when it comes to heat supply. As stated, however, the following applies here: the matter is only tenable if you deal with a sense of proportion. Destroying existing ecosystems to grow plants for biomass use is not a sensible approach. The same is true if too much land is given up for growing food. In Germany, there is therefore the so-called Biomass Electricity Sustainability Ordinance. The operators of installations must therefore be certified and prove that the bioenergy or biofuels have been produced in an environmentally, climate and nature-friendly manner. Some other countries have similar regulations, but to date there is no European regulation.