“The professionalization of the biomass industry is a problem that needs attention.”–Bas Eickhout, Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament.
When it comes to the global shift to low-carbon energy sources, Europe has traditionally been viewed as the world leader while the United States has frequently been regarded as an important, albeit grudging, participant. Over the past half-decade, China has also improved its stock in the fast-growing market through a plethora of heavy investments, especially in solar and wind.
For the most part, those views appear merited: Renewables rose to generate 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020 (compared to 34.6% in 2019), marking the first time renewables overtook fossil-fired generation, which fell to 37%. In contrast, the IEA estimates that natural gas and coal generated a combined 61% of electricity in the United States in 2020, with renewables accounting for just 20%.
Earlier this year, the EU earned extra bragging rights after renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history.
In contrast, the United States’ standing in the energy transition cycle took a significant hit after former president Donald Trump fulfilled a key campaign pledge by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, joining the likes of Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not party to the agreement.
But maybe Europe is not as clean as it has made the world believe—and the United States is not as dirty.
In 2009, the European Union issued a Renewable Energy Directive (RED), pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. But the fine print provided a major loophole: the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source, on par with wind and solar power.
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