Despite the global economic recession, wood energy production and consumption remains the most important source of renewable heat in the UNECE region and it is expected to continue its growth in the coming future.
According to the UNECE/FAO 2011 Joint Wood Energy Enquiry, wood biomass increased by 4% annually in energy consumption between 2007 and 2011 in the UNECE region. Wood is the leading source of renewable energy. This trend is expected to continue or even accelerate as many European governments are setting up policies to promote wood energy as part of their plans to meet the EU ambitious target of 20% of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. These policies aim not only at mitigating climate change, but also at increasing energy security by promoting alternatives to imported and increasingly costly fossil fuels.
Wood is indeed the oldest source of energy, but only recently it has gained new attention and has become increasingly important. In fact, for a while, wood has been considered a cheap and time consuming type of fuel. Traditional wood energy systems were burning woody biomass in inefficient furnaces or stoves, causing many severe respiratory diseases, as reported in a 2006 WHO study on “Fuel for Life- Household energy and health” (more information available here).
However, standardized wood fuel and modern ventilation technology have improved the quality of furnaces and woody systems and the installation of modern pellet stoves has helped to reduce the emissions of particles and has lowered pollution.
Another example of a more efficient use of woody biomass is represented by big scale applications such as woody biomass-fired combined heat and power plants, which have quickly developed in the latest years.
Not only does woody biomass represent an efficient and less expensive source of energy, but it is also sustainable and most of all it contributes to mitigating climate change. A 2009 study from the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Agriculture confirms that wood energy can indeed provide clean heat and electricity, thus bringing economic, social and environmental benefits. (more information available here).
The UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section is promoting several activities in order to improve the knowledge of wood energy in Member States.
- Joint Wood Energy Enquiry
- More Heat, Less Wood Workshop (planned for October 2015)
- UNECE/FAO Policy Debate on Wood Energy (8 May 2012, Geneva)
- UNECE/FAO Joint Wood Energy Enquiry Capacity Building Workshop (11-13 June 2012, Paris)
Additional information on wood energy availability in the UNECE region can also be found in other ECE/FAO publications:
- State of Europe's forests
- European Forest Sector Outlook Study
- Forest Products Market Review