Biomass: Can it be classified as clean energy?
Business energy supplier Squeaky has called out biomass as ‘dirty’ power and says consumers are being misled in thinking that all renewable energy is ‘clean’.
It wants Ofgem to mandate clear labelling in the form of a traffic light system so that people know whether the renewable energy they are buying is non-polluting.
The firm commissioned market research firm Populus to survey 2,000 UK energy customers. It found 43% believed ‘renewable energy’ to mean energy from sources which are non-polluting, sustainable or carbon neutral.
But Squeaky points out that renewable sources include biomass, which it described as ‘dirty’ because burning wood or waste releases both solid carbon particulates and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2).
While firms like Drax, which burns wood pellets from North America to produce much of the UK’s renewable energy, state categorically that their fuel sources and supply chain are sustainable, there is evidence to suggest that burning biomass may actually make climate change worse.
Based on a recently published lifecycle analysis of US forests, MIT professor John D Sterman argues the latter.
“Government policies should not violate basic laws of physics. Declaring that wood biofuels are carbon neutral, as the EU, UK and others have done, assumes regrowth is rapid and certain. Neither is true. This accounting fiction promotes costly policies that accelerate climate change. Through renewable energy subsidies, the UK and Europe are paying power plants to make climate change worse.”
Meanwhile, a government commissioned report published last year by Beis was inconclusive on the sustainability of biomass. It said more research was needed.
Squeaky’s survey found only a third of respondents knew that renewable energy includes biomass, versus 85% that believed renewable to be sourced from solar and wind power.
The company said only 23% of respondents agreed that biomass could be suitably interpreted as ‘green’ energy when offered an explanation of biomass-derived power.
Squeaky said energy companies use confusing language around ‘greener’, ‘smarter’ and ‘low carbon’ tariffs and called for Ofgem to mandate a standard labelling system for energy products, much like nutritional information on food labelling.
Bowden: Says business model is “squeaky clean”.
Founder Chris Bowden said customers are being “hoodwinked into buying energy which they think is non-polluting … and are then being charged a premium for what they believe is environmentally friendly energy which can more more polluting than coal”.
He wants Ofgem to implement three definitions:
Clean energy, which is non-polluting and includes: renewable energy from wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and hydropower.
Renewable energy: which includes the above plus biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases, and can be imported from overseas.
Standard energy: Energy derived from all forms of generation.
Bowden co-founded Utilyx before selling to Mitie in 2012. He founded Squeaky Clean Energy to give mid-sized firms the power to strike deals direct with renewables generators in the same way large corporates do. In a nutshell, “we cut out the middle man and buy direct”, he recently told The Energyst.
He claimed Squeaky’s peer-to-peer platform, which connects buyers with sellers, enables firms to buy clean power for the same price, or less, than brown power.
See a full interview with Bowden here.