A splintered sector: COVID-19 and Biomass

Forest of trees

A splintered sector: COVID-19 and Biomass

ESS breaks down the latest news concerning Coronavirus, social distancing and how this is affecting the UK’s waste wood collection and biomass plants.

If the bough breaks

The last four weeks have been tumultuous to say the least, as the UK now enters the final week of Boris Johnson’s initial lockdown we must now grapple with the unforeseen, long-term effects it might have on our energy infrastructure.

Social distancing has meant the direct closure of much of the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries in the UK which, thanks to recent pressure from those groups and Rishi Sunak’s 2020 budget, are now receiving financial aid to help mitigate the costs of the crisis.

However, one industry that has been hit particularly hard during the crisis is now seeking assurances of its own from the government given that it’s supply chain is now at risk of coming up short. Biomass plant operators have expressed acute concerns that, as a result of social distancing, the problem of a reliable supply of waste wood as now become threefold.

First of all, domestic recycling centres provide a large portion of the domestic waste wood that UK biomass energy plants rely on, however many of these centres have been closed as a part of lockdown. Subsequently, the infrastructure that allowed members of the public to transport this waste material to where it could be used no longer exists in many boroughs and constituencies.

Second, current social distancing measures don’t outline visiting dumps and recycling centres as an essential activity and the fears surrounding COVID-19 have broadly translated into people avoiding leaving the house if possible-as they should. Unfortunately, this compounds the problem of transferring waste wood from residences and other sites to the plants that need it since those centres that do remain open will see diminished visits.

Finally, due to the amount of people now working from home, and the likelihood of construction work being suspended, the supply of waste wood from commercial projects is also likely dwindle. Additionally, skip-hire companies now face severe financial uncertainty since the sectors they rely upon may be put on ice for several more weeks or even months.

These fears are plausible enough that many plants are questioning whether to go ahead with seasonal maintenance routines since there is sufficient risk the machines will see little or no use.

“We are seeing an increasing number of requests to defer Integrity Inspections coupled with postponements to PSSR Statutory Examinations into later this year or early next year.”

-Uniper, Biomass Plant Technical Consultant

An axe to grind

The Wood Heat Association, responding to this increasing uncertainty, has called upon the government to guarantee a low-carbon heat pipeline.

The UK’s Pellet council used approximately 2.1m tons of domestic wood waste in 2018 alone and depends on an equal distribution of both domestic production and import of wood pellet fuel from abroad. The food sector uses around 50,000 tons annually between food production sites and supermarkets, making it one of the largest beneficiaries of the 700,000 ton industry.

“… nobody could have foreseen the impact which this outbreak is having, and unfortunately will continue to have, in the short-term. It is therefore essential that key frontline organisations like the NHS and healthcare providers, other essential businesses like supermarkets, food producers and manufacturers supplying much-needed items, and key workers, can 100% rely on our industry to provide critical biomass heating in a time of crisis.”

-Mark Lebus, UK Pellet Council Chair

brown trees


Seeing the wood for tress

The consumer, however, need not be concerned about their own energy needs since, as the National Grid have made clear, UK energy demands are actually more likely to fall than rise due to the drop off in the commercial and entertainment sectors. However National Grid have also made a point of creating an anti-fragile supply network that relies as much on variety for resilience as it does on reliable supply chains.

“We have a diverse mix of energy sources which generate electricity, and biomass accounts for a small proportion of that mix. The market would respond to any changes and make more electricity available, so we would not anticipate security of supply being affected.”

-National Grid Spokesperson

At ESS we are committed to empowering our clients through the supply of current and well-researched data specific to their needs, which is why we will continue to report on the industry effects of COVID-19, as they become apparent.

“We provide effective waste management and query management for various types of waste for all business sectors. As sustainability is a big focus of ours we look to provide our clients with both a cost effective and economically friendly solution for their waste requirements.”

-Faye Lewis, Account Manager ESS

To find out how we can help make your waste management more efficient, visit our website here.

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