Renewables Update

The success of woody biomass in Austria and its application to Japan in Japanese

8 May 2014 Heinz Kopetz, President, World Bioenergy Association

Austria has a population of 8.2 million people living in 3.5 million households. The country has size of 84,000km², almost 50% of the land is covered with forests.

The activities to develop woody biomass started in 1978. In this year the population decided in a referendum not to use nuclear energy in Austria. This decision was the start for a policy in favour of renewable energies.

In 1980 the use of biomass for energy was in the size of 55PJ, mainly traditional firewood.

In 2011 biomass contributed 227 PJ to the energy supply of the country, 180 PJ came from woody biomass, the rest from agriculture and waste. Woody biomass covers 12.2% of the total primary energy demand, about 23 million m³ wood are used for energy annually, cascading in wood use is important.

How was it possible to boost woody biomass in such a way? Biomass is most competitive in the heating sector and 50% of the total final energy is used as heat. The efforts were concentrated to penetrate the heat market: 85% of woody biomass goes to heat, 15% to electricity. Different strategies were developed.

One important activity was the construction of district heating plants and distribution grids in rural areas, built and operated by local people. This offers the opportunity to use woodchips from the region and creates new income. At present more than 2,000 district heating plants in the size of 0.5MW to 30 MW are in operation.

But not all houses can be connected to district heat. A comfortable way of heating single houses with biomass is the use of pellets. In 2014 about 120,000 pellet boilers are installed and each year more than 10,000 are added.

The government policy behind this program can be applied in Japan as well as in Austria. Main activities of the government were: awareness building and information about the advantages of a renewable domestic heat supply, support of modern forestry techniques, training and education of small entrepreneurs operating heating plants, strong financial support for investments in biomass boilers be it pellets boilers or larger wood chip boilers. As a rule of thumb it can be said that 8 million Euro per one million inhabitants and year of government support were needed to achieve this transition of the heating system. And the program will be continued: until 2020 additional 25PJ woody biomass shall be used.