London, UK — Whether in wind, solar or bioenergy, the renewable energy industry is getting used to thinking big. The challenge of scale is a recurring theme throughout this issue of Renewable Energy World.
For example, our latest Big Question feature (highly appropriately named in this case) addresses the bold position taken by the World Bioenergy Association (WBA) concerning the potential of the technologies it represents (see page 23). It asserts that bioenergy, and biomass in particular, is capable of nothing less than the sustainable supply of the world’s total energy demand.
It acknowledges that meeting this ambitious goal would require the adoption of best practices, technologies and policies around the world, but the basic claim is clear – the solution exists, we just have to find a way to solve the puzzle and reach it.
Naturally, the respondents to our Big Question offer the sophisticated analysis of this proposition that you would expect and highlight the complexities that underlie it.
Where would all the extra production that would be needed take place, and what are the implications for land use and transportation of biomaterials? Where is any sign of the political will needed to take bioenergy to such levels? What about issues of conservation and water use?
These are all excellent points that show the WBA’s position for what it is – highly ambitious. Ambition, however, is no bad thing, and it is surely right to assert that given sufficient scale, bioenergy could make a huge contribution to meeting the world’s energy needs.
Indeed, the scale question is addressed further in our article ‘Putting Pressure on Petrol’ by Mark Bünger of Lux Research, who points out that to really take its place on the energy centre stage, the bio sector needs to fight it out toe-to-toe with the giants of the established fossil-based industry. Bünger argues that achieving this would involve a ruthless prioritising by policymakers and investors of the specific biotechnologies capable of operating at the vast scales required to compete with petroleum.
So there is the message – fulfilling big ambitions requires big thinking. Similar issues face all sectors of the renewable energy industry. Hopefully, the challenges of scale will be ones the renewables community will get used to grappling with in the years to come. That will show that it has really arrived.