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Introduction to Energy Peat

Peat provides electricity and heat to local communities across Europe
Jaakko Silpola
Coordinator of the Energy from Peatland Sector Group

A short introduction

Peat has been used as a form of energy for at least 2000 years. Historically, it was used as an alternative to firewood for cooking and heating in rural areas. In particular in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland and the Baltic countries. More recently, energy peat has been used as fuel for electricity and heat generation, and directly as a source of heat for industrial, residential and other purposes. Currently, there are over hundred energy plants in Europe that are using energy peat or a combination of energy peat and other wood-based fuels. In addition, energy peat is used in medium sized and small areal heating centrals and boilers in households. According to the World Energy Council, the total production area for energy peat in the EU amounts to 1 750 km2 (0.34% of the total peatland area). The total annual use of fuel peat has amounted to 12 million delivered tonnes of peat (4 million tonnes of carbon) during recent years.

As a fuel, peat can be used in four forms:

  1. Sod peat - slabs of peat, cut by hand or by machine, and dried in the air; mostly used as a household fuel 2
  2. Milled peat - granulated peat, produced on a large scale by special machines; used either as a power station fuel or as raw material for briquettes
  3. Peat briquettes - small blocks of dried, highly compressed peat; used mainly as a household fuel and sometimes in older power plants to replace coal
  4. Peat pellets – used in areal heating centrals and farms

Peat extraction is operated under strict environmental licences issued by national environmental authorities. New environmental protection methods are continuously being researched and developed together with environmental authorities, research institutions and universities.

The capability of peatlands to become ‘carbon sinks’, a way of storing used carbon, gives them climate change mitigation potential that does not exist for fossil fuel mines. The climate impact from the combustion of energy peat over time can be substantially compensated for by after-treatment of the harvested area. This effect is most evident for high emitting peatlands (i.e. cultivated peatlands) but the effect can also be seen for forestry drained sites. Both afforestation and rehabilitation/ restoration as forms of after-use have a potential to turn a peatland from a net source to a net sink of greenhouse gases after harvesting has ceased. Generally, afforestation will decrease the climate impact in a shorter time span than rehabilitation or restoration.

The use of peat together with wood fuels can lead to efficiency gains. Needles and bark contain impurities, which cause crust on the inner surface of the boiler. Crusting shortens the life of boilers and increases the need for cleaning. Problems arising from impurities can be effectively reduced by using wood and peat together.

The CO2 emissions of peat-fired power plants and heat boilers are controlled through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).


The benefits of peat as a local energy source

  • Peat produced locally can improve energy security. A study conducted by an independent research organisation (VTT Technical Research Center) reveals that fuel peat is an important indigenous energy source that provides household heating to almost 2 million European citizens. As a local fuel, it plays an important role in the decentralized and diversified energy system.
  • Energy peat can be used as an efficient co-fuel to wood- based fuels. It has been found that the chemical properties of wood fuel alone may cause certain problems in boilers. Burning peat together with wood helps to control the combustion process and reduce corrosion.
  • Energy peat supports trade balances by decreasing the dependence on imported fuels and electricity.
  • Energy peat can create jobs, provide income opportunities and welfare to local communities. In addition, the energy peat industry contributes to crucial infrastructure, such as local roads, that benefits local communities.


EPAGMA’s contribution to the EU energy policy goals

EPAGMA recognises the increasing importance that energy policy has had for the European Union’s policy makers and industry over the last five years. The policy areas that impact the European energy supply and demand, as well as energy efficiency, are extremely important for the economic and political development of the Union.

Against this background, peat for energy use is important because: 

  • it represents a very large indigenous EU energy source; 
  • it contributes to heating 2 million households during cold winters, ensuring security of supply;
  • Co-firing with biomass improves the energy efficiency and reduces carbon emissions;
  • It can eliminate or reduce the emissions occurring from ditched mires.

EPAGMA believes that a debate beyond these targets is needed on the promotion of indigenous energy sources. Our industry would like to emphasise the importance that local fuels produced and used in the EU such as energy peat and biomass can contribute to isolated or local areas where dependence on imported fuels is high and expensive.

EPAGMA fully endorses the objective of refocusing energy policy to promote competitiveness and security of supply; these two pillars must drive energy policy in Europe and at national level.

Challenges related to security of supply should not only be seen as a European infrastructure problem; It is also about enabling local authorities and populations to make the best use of their indigenous energy sources to define affordable and sustainable energy mixes.


Country by country

In Finland the number of large peat-fired CHP power plants is about 55. The boiler output of these plants is 20 – 550 MWth and in total about 7 200 MWth. Power plants are municipal or industrial plants, or serve both sectors. There are also about 120 district heating (DH) plants using peat. In addition hundreds areal heating centrals and farms use peat fuel.

Ireland is the second largest fuel peat user in the EU. Ireland has three power plants which produce condensing power. The total output of these plants is 370MWe and the share of peat in electricity generation is 6%. Residential heating consumes about 34% of the total peat use.

Sweden has around 22 heating plants, of which about half are CHP plants and half stand-alone district heating plants. In a large majority of the power plants, peat is co-fuelled with biomass.

In Estonia peat is mainly used in steams boilers of peat briquette factories and in three CHP power plants.

In Latvia energy peat is mainly a fuel for private households, which accounts for 80% of the total use of peat. The rest is consumed by industrial boiler houses.