Biomass used to meet energy needs in Vietnam.
Photo: © United Nation

Access to energy with biomass – which type for which purpose?

The sixth Bonn Network meeting “Bioenergy for Development” was dedicated to the topic: “Access to energy with biomass – which type for which purpose?” The network was established in April 2012 to encourage an exchange on bioenergy issues in the development cooperation context. All events have been organised by the German Development Institute (DIE) and Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The last meeting of the Bonn Network “Bioenergy for Development” took place end of June in Bonn. It focused on how the more than four billion people relying on wood fuel, charcoal and crop residues for cooking or do not having any electricity supply can get access to energy with biomass. Energy is used both in households (cooking, heating, cooling) and for productive purposes such as tilling or irrigation and (food) processing or transport.

Four speakers shared information on developments in the bioenergy sector and the various types of energy applied in African and Asian countries. Shunichi Nakada of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) referred to the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which aims at ensuring universal access to modern energy services by 2030. It furthermore seeks to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Under this initiative, the Sustainable Bioenergy High Impact Opportunity was established. Its purpose is to share knowledge and provide support with regard to policy development, project development and financing. IRENA projects the global renewable energy use to grow by 110 per cent by 2030. Bioenergy will represent about 60 per cent of this increase. The building sector currently accounts for three-quarters of total renewable energy use. It is expected that by, 2030, the use of traditional biomass use will be largely replaced by modern biomass and the industrial sector will make substantial use of renewable electricity.

Rainer Janssen of the private institute WIP – Renewable Energies elaborated on the potential of mini-grid systems in rural villages and towns of Africa. Currently, many diesel mini-grid systems are in operation. These could be replaced by generators running on liquid biofuels. Moreover, biogas production from organic wastes or burning of solid biomass and agricultural waste could be increased. Several examples are available in Benin, India, Mali, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Bagasse, a residue of sugar production is used for example to generate electricity at farm level. Excess energy can be supplied to the grid. An enabling environment that creates long-term perspectives is needed as well as a clear sustainability framework that can be easily implemented.

Heinz Sturm of the International Clean Energy Partnership Foundation (ICEPS), who also set up the Climate Technology Center near Bonn, Germany, took the view that German technologies could make an important contribution to facilitate access to energy in remote areas of Africa. He suggested using the available biomass, such as agricultural wastes, sludge or energy crops, to produce biogas for household use. This would reduce health-related risks from indoor smoke and protect the climate.

Dorothea Otremba of the GIZ project “HERA – Poverty Oriented Modern Energy Services” focused on solid biomass and agricultural residues that are the main sources of energy in rural areas of Africa and Asia. Often, it supplies more than 90 per cent of the primary energy consumption in African countries. Otremba distinguished between thermal energy, which is critical for survival, and electric energy, which is used for lighting, cooling and communication. The latter is relevant to improving the quality of life and bring human development, but people can survive without it. There are two options to make wood use more sustainable and to reduce deforestation. One is decreasing the fuel needs by means of improved cook stoves, and the other is increasing wood fuel supply through tree planting on private land. To plan a sustainable supply of wood fuels that meets the demand, the project HERA has developed a multi-stakeholder approach which can be studied in the Biomass Energy Sector Planning Guide. 

In the subsequent discussion, participants agreed that bioenergy entailed a lot of potential to create access to energy, especially in rural areas. However, investments in renewable energy and in bioenergy in particular do not happen without an external push and an encouraging regulatory framework. Upfront investments are relatively high with regard to renewable energy and therefore, subsidies or feed-in-tariffs are normally needed. Bioenergy is a complex topic and involves the engagement of a variety of actors (agricultural producers, traders, plant operators, etc.). Sustainability issues need to be considered.

Participants discussed what could encourage people to invest in renewable energies. The need for options to earn good money with the technology was referred to. Energy demand and purchasing power had to be in place. In rural areas, power companies or rural electrification agencies frequently subsidise connections so that rural people pay the same prices as grid-based consumers. Renewable energies only become competitive if conventional forms of energy reach a certain price level. Improved cook stoves, for example, will only be used if wood has a cost. If wood is available in free access areas, investments in improved cooking technologies will not be worthwhile. Value chains need to be developed that integrate people and offer a chance to earn a higher income. People need to clearly feel the benefit of new technologies in their daily lives.;

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