By 2020 both wind and solar power will outshine biomass electric generation as a replacement for coal-fired power plants in the United Kingdom. A new study from Vivid Economics commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that of the low-cost, low-carbon energy generation options biomass produces the most carbon and is least cost-competitive.
In 2015 the UK committed to retire all of its coal plants by 2020—a first for a nation—in an attempt to cut its carbon emissions to 80 percent below its 1990 levels by 2050. Now it has to figure out how to move swiftly to new sources of electric generation to replace coal plants.
“This report clearly indicates that when you account for total economic costs, cleaner alternatives like wind and solar are the lower-cost solution for a coal-free UK. It’s just good economic sense,” said Sasha Stashwick, a senior advocate with NRDC, a US-based environmental organization.
At £89 ($118) per megawatt hour (MWh) biomass conversion plants are least cost-competitive by 2020. Solar power will cost £69 ($91) per MWh and onshore wind power will cost £65 ($86) per MWh by 2020. Furthermore the prices are slated to fall even more by 2025 while biomass prices will stay the same. That’s according to the new report “Money to Burn II: Solar and Wind Can Reliably Supply the United Kingdom’s New Electricity Needs More Cost-Effectively Than Biomass.”
The study argued that continuing to support converting coal-fired power plants to biomass plants that burn wood pellets imported from the Southeastern United States and elsewhere would result in the country and its citizens paying “an excess implicit subsidy of over £360 million” compared to wind energy. That’s $475 million more in today’s US dollars.
“The science already shows that burning biomass on a mass scale for electricity increases carbon pollution and is extremely harmful to the environment,” Stashwick said. “The emissions risks associated with biomass are simply too big to be ignored, and now we see that the economics of biomass don’t make sense as the UK strives to replace coal and decarbonize its power sector.”
The study accounted for all the costs of each technology and the expectations of future costs by 2020 and 2025. The costs included technology costs, supply costs and carbon costs. It found that even for scenarios that don’t fully account for the carbon emissions from biomass plants still find that biomass is at best equal to, if not more expensive than onshore wind and solar power.Tweet