Energy from biomass accounts for almost two thirds of the renewable energy generation in the European Union. Unlike other renewable energy sources though, biomass is a limited resource, making sustainability an important issue. A dedicated legal framework is therefore essential to regulate its use.
However, numerous uncertainties including optimal production and conversion technologies, Europe’s biomass potential and sustainability criteria undermine policy making. Developing suitable regulation and standards that simultaneously promote the growth of bioenergy is therefore a challenge.
In order to better inform policy makers, and generally promote sustainable bioenergy development in Central Europe, the 4BIOMASS project was launched by the INTERREG IVB Central Europe Programme, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund.
The project was a collaboration between expert energy agencies in seven countries (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovenia), who together devised a ‘Transnational Action Plan for Central Europe’, providing support for the development of an integrated and transnationally coordinated bioenergy policy.
The partners first conducted comprehensive studies of the political frameworks, potential available biomass and trade within the region. They also collated best practices, both in terms of management and technology, from each country. This helped establish a detailed overview of the state-of-play in Central Europe.
Parallel to this, an ambitious stakeholder survey was undertaken, canvassing the opinions and experiences of over 1000 biomass experts. This consultation suggested, for example, that biomass should primarily be exploited to satisfy local needs, through heat generation at decentralised plants.
The results from the partners’ investigations and the stakeholder dialogue formed the basis of the Transnational Action Plan, which contains around sixty recommendations to policy makers and implementing authorities. The plan offers specific recommendations for each of the participating countries, while simultaneously outlining realistic but optimistic goals and a coordinated strategy for Central Europe as a whole. Measures include providing support to business, while also supporting private demand for bioenergy.
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have already implemented some of the policies advanced in the plan.
By promoting information sharing the partners delivered a coordinated plan, whilst also discovering new cross border opportunities, such as setting up synergies in biomass transportation flows.
Through collaboration the energy agencies were able to maximise the ambition and reach of their work. None of the agencies could have undertaken such a comprehensive and insightful stakeholder consultation alone, for example. This added weight to the policy recommendations featured in the plan.
Key to the long-term impact of the Action Plan was the early involvement of relevant governmental departments, with the Environment/Agriculture Ministries of the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Ukraine associated from the outset. Creating this level of political buy-in helped boost the eventual uptake of policy recommendations.
Many of the recommendations in the 4BIOMASS Action Plan are transferable, having inherent relevance for promoting sustainable bioenergy development, regardless of location. The practice itself also has good potential for transfer. For energy agencies looking to increase both outreach and potential policy uptake, collaboration on a transnational action plan can certainly enlarge impact. The relevance and viability of transnational action plans and strategies will vary according to the sector, but the policy is estimated to be an 8 on the GML scale.