Canadian Biomass Magazine

Powering sustainability

July 5, 2024
By Gordon Murray

The role of biomass in electrification

Gordon Murray

Across Canada and around the globe there’s an electrification revolution.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting to emissions-free electricity to propel our cars, heat our homes and run our factories will require doubling, or possibly tripling, the amount of power we make now.

According to the Public Policy Forum’s Project of the Century: A Blueprint for Growing Canada’s Clean Energy Supply – And Fast, Canada must build more electricity generation in the next 25 years than it has over the last century to support a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

Powering the shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable and responsible energy will require new innovations and solutions. Biomass and wood pellets have a critical role to play in the transition to a greener and brighter future.

While there are varying opinions on what technologies will be needed, one thing everyone can agree on is that achieving our goals will require smart combinations of renewable resources and effective policies to reduce emissions. We’re also not the only nation grappling with this catch-22 scenario of both establishing an emissions-free grid and expanding current grid capacities.

In 2012, Sweden reached their target of 50-per-cent renewable energy eight years ahead of schedule on their 2040 goal of 100-per-cent fossil-free renewable electricity production. They achieved this by leveraging their natural assets, using a combination of wind, bioenergy, and solar. Like Canada, Sweden has a rich supply of moving water and biomass, which contributes to the country’s high share of renewable energy. The largest source of bioenergy in Sweden is the forest.

The Swedes have proven what many of us have long believed: bioenergy isn’t just good for our bottom lines; it’s also good for our forests. In Sweden, 37 per cent of its energy is from biomass and since 1990 they have doubled their bioenergy consumption while increasing their standing timber volume by 40 per cent; resulting in a 70-per-cent reduction in GHG emissions. Imagine the potential for bioenergy in Canada with 367 million hectares of forests compared to Sweden’s 28 million hectares. This combined with the fact that we still leave tens of millions cubic metres of forest residuals on the ground following harvesting or natural disturbances – residuals that could go towards bioenergy, keep communities safer and reduce carbon emissions from fires. Talk about a missed opportunity!

This September, WPAC will host its annual conference in Victoria, B.C. from September 17 to 18 where we will gather experts from across the country and around the globe to explore the role of biomass in electrification, and what we need to do to help our sector reach its highest potential.

One such expert that you won’t want to miss at our conference is longtime CBC reporter and author Bob McDonald who believes that humans have already invented everything they need to solve the climate crisis. However, he says transitioning to a greener economy will require political will, economic investment and public acceptance. McDonald is the author of The Future Is Now: Solving the Climate Crisis with Today’s Technologies and the host of CBC Radio’s award-winning science program, Quirks & Quarks,

As McDonald rightly points out, there’s no silver bullet. A green future will use solar, biofuel, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, nuclear, fusion and hydrogen power.

But there is still much to do. According to McDonald, green energy is still a fringe component of our energy supply, with wind accounting for only 3.5 per cent of our energy and biomass providing a mere 1.4 per cent.  The good news though is that bioenergy from our forests is gaining traction in remote communities across Canada, the Maritimes and even in provinces once known for their abundant supply of hydroelectric power. Our sector, long respected across Europe, the UK and Japan is quickly making its mark at home.

I hope you’ll be able to join our conference this year as we examine the global demand for clean energy solutions and discuss our sector’s state of readiness. We will explore trending safety initiatives like process safety management to ensure our sector is not just ready to grow, but to do so safely. We will learn from First Nations leaders who are advancing Indigenous-led approaches to sustainability using ancestral wisdom and hear about modern tools to demonstrate compliance with emerging trade requirements. Together we will also examine the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in achieving our sector’s full potential.

These are exciting times for our sector, daunting challenges for our planet and a world of opportunities. I look forward to seeing you in Victoria, B.C.

Gordon Murray is the executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC).


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