Published on November 28th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer
Britannia to Run Out of Wood for Second Time in 500 Years
A British company that provides strategic analysis of climate change, sustainability and energy issues to British corporations.Verdantix has published a report finding that the explosion of large-scale biomass plants in the UK could wind up struggling to find the biomass supply needed to keep plants running.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
The first time they burned up all their forests to keep warm the British turned to coal instead. Even in the time of King Rufus, who died in 1100, taking wood from the forest could earn you a death penalty. Nevertheless, the British became so skilled at deforestation from the 1200’s that by 1500 they were running short of wood. By the last four decades of the 13th century, the cost of wood was already out of reach for commoners.
Coal was cheaper, but its environmental cost was seen at least 7 centuries ago. King Edward I banned the burning it in 1272. Anyone caught burning or selling the “sea-coal” as it was called (it was shipped by sea from Newcastle), was to be tortured or executed.
An early Smart Growth advocate; John Evelyn, in his 1661 teatise Fumifugium; or the inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated argued for ending the ‘pernicious Accident’ of coal use, so as to render the people of London ‘the most happy upon earth.’ How wrong that ‘this Glorious and Antient City’ which ‘commands the Proud Ocean to the Indies’ should ‘wrap her stately head in clowds of Smoake and Sulphur, so full of Stink and Darknesse’.”
In the middle of the 20th century 4,000 people died in a “coal fog.” At the end of the twentieth century, the British found out that it was actually not so hard to find other ways to boil water to make steam to turn turbines to make electricity with.
They signed Kyoto in 1999, and got on with making heat and power with biomass: wood waste from their forestry and agricultural industries. New innovative companies sprang up to make clean-burning electricity by burning biomass instead, making both heat for district heating and power for electric home heating.
Britain’s biomass energy sector expanded and thrived, in the 20 years since they signed Kyoto.
But now, once again; the tiny nation may be up against its limits in biomass supplies for its new biomass energy sector. But, this time, Britainnia will not turn back to coal. Instead; they may need to import wood waste to keep the boilers going. Fortunately for the British there are still huge whole continents-full of unused biomass.
Not every country signed Kyoto; propelling itself into a new technological age of new ways to stay warm while not fouling the nest. They could import wood waste from the vast North American continent, which, with no carbon constraining legislation, has barely begun to utilize its biomass waste to make heat and power for the making of electricity for heating.
Even with all those extra carbon miles, Britannia would be well within its Kyoto-legislated limits.
Image: Managed Forests