By Senior Analyst, Kavita Srinivasan
Members of the CCC Bioenergy team recently joined experts on bioenergy from the National Farmers’ Union to visit two miscanthus and short-rotation coppice (SRC) willow farms in Yorkshire. The farms supply woody biomass directly to Drax and other power stations for co-firing, as well as for local heat applications.
Miscanthus, known as elephant grass, and SRC willow, a woody perennial crop, have been identified as the more suitable perennial energy crops for growing in the UK. Both crops can grow on poorer quality land, require fewer inputs, and have been found to host higher levels of biodiversity relative to conventional crops.
The market for SRC willow and miscanthus has developed over the past ten years under the Energy Crop Scheme, which subsidises 50% of costs incurred over a five-year period. Currently there are 10-15,000 hectares of willow and miscanthus in the UK.
After touring both farms, the CCC met with energy crop growers, suppliers and advisers. All growers indicated that both miscanthus and willow had provided a solution for poorer quality arable land where they had struggled to produce consistent wheat yields or in areas where access for growing conventional crops proved difficult (e.g. steep banks and awkward corners).
To stimulate further market development, growers also called for longer term support (i.e. greater than five years), interest-free loans to aid in the purchase of equipment, and the potential for receiving funding under agri-environment schemes (payments currently made to conventional crop farmers for delivering environmental management). All emphasised the role that domestic energy crop production could play in securing a sustainable supply of bioenergy to meet the UK’s renewables targets.
The CCC’s Bioenergy review will be released at the end of 2011. This will include our detailed assessment of investment in biomass power generation, focusing on technical feasibility, economics and availability of sustainable biomass.