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Wood energy looks promising in the western Balkans

Published: 02 December 2009

Geneva

Attracting participants from throughout the western Balkans, a workshop held in Cavtat, Croatia from 17 to 20 November 2009 focused on identifying a range of policy options that could advance the development of modern, cost-effective wood energy, benefiting the entire region.

Representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia reported on the present state of wood energy and highlighted the potential for wood energy to contribute significantly to reducing the region’s reliance on imported fossil fuels while at the same time stimulating sustainable economic development and providing social and environmental improvements. 

Forest covers between 30% and 53% of the western Balkans (40% on average compared with 42% in the 27 countries of the European Union). Currently most countries rely heavily on fossil fuels to meet their total primary energy needs (between 65% - 85%). According to the International Energy Agency, imported energy dependency ranges between 32% - 58%, with the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has significant hydroelectric capacity and domestic coal production.

Wood is used extensively in several countries of the region but rather inefficiently. It is considered to be responsible for significant health problems due to the small particulates released by incomplete combustion in old-fashioned hearths and stoves.  Modern processed wood fuels like wood pellets and briquettes are being manufactured but most of the annual production is exported.

The prospects of an increase in the use of efficient wood-energy technologies thus look promising. However, the meeting confirmed that modern wood energy will not realise its full potential without commitment at the political level, both nationally and locally.  In addition, closer cooperation between the various public and private bodies with an interest in energy and forest management will help to ensure that their combined efforts complement each other and provide the necessary boost to wood energy.

There was optimism that this will happen in spite of the challenges that countries face. There are already several excellent examples of how such working together can achieve impressive results, with the installation of new wood burning technology, bringing benefits to investors and communities alike.

Conclusions:

  • The workshop provided a useful platform for the countries of the region to share national experiences and existing knowledge on wood energy.
  • Participants urged the introduction of active arrangements that could encourage future regular exchange.
  • The country reports highlighted the scope for wood to play an even greater role in meeting the energy needs of the countries, reducing reliance on high cost fossil fuels.
  • Increasing the efficiency of wood energy and its share in the overall energy supply of the region has the potential to boost economic development and employment, especially in rural areas.
  • The region is a net exporter of wood fuel while at the same time highly dependent on imported energy. 
  • The current lack of reliable consistent data about wood energy across the region must be addressed, if policies are to be soundly based.
  • Improvements in infrastructure are essential to encourage wood mobilization and allow countries to realize fully the considerable potential of their forest resources.
  • Private forestry has significant potential to increase the supply of wood energy, but the small scale and scattered private forest ownership are barriers to mobilizing the wood resource.
  • The divided responsibilities across public and private sector stakeholders, together with the absence of a clearly recognized lead body, produces difficulties in developing and implementing policies for promoting wood energy.
  • Financial support through coherent incentive mechanisms could do much to help with the high investment costs that are currently a barrier to the wider adoption of modern wood energy systems.
  • With notable exceptions, panel, pellet and briquette production has increased significantly and, in several areas, production capacity now exceeds the available supply of co-products: the economic downturn in the sawmill sector has worsened the situation.
  • Wood energy in the region must be affordable if it is to succeed.
  • Practical demonstration projects are the most effective mechanism for convincing stakeholders of the effectiveness and benefits of modern wood burning technology.
  • A technology transfer needs assessment from EU to non-EU countries would assist greatly in identifying current gaps in know-how.
  • The introduction of a system of consistent quality standards for wood fuels is essential in supporting market development.

Recommendations:

For more information, please visit timber.unece.org/index.php

The meeting was organized by the Croatian Ministry of Regional Development, Forestry and Water Management and the North West Croatia Regional Energy Agency, together with the UNECE/FAO Timber Section (Geneva) and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s subregional office for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest.

For more information, please contact:

Douglas Clark

Forest Products Marketing Specialist

UN Economic Commission for Europe/Food and Agriculture Organization

Timber Section

E-mail: douglas.clark@unece.org

Tel. +41 (0) 22 917 2773

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0041

Web: www.unece.org/timber

Ref: ECE/TIM/09/P09


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