Forests have always been important to Estonians, as a place for relaxation, berry and mushroom picking, and as a source for wood. “We have always loved and taken good care of our forests. Now that same attitude can be seen in our efforts to replace non-renewable energy sources with wood and other renewables,” says Ulvar Kaubi, Head of Timber Marketing Department of Estonian State Forest Management Centre (RMK).
Today, in Estonia, there is 40% more forest land than 60 years ago. Half of the country (2 million ha) is covered with trees and approximately half of this is managed by the Estonian State Forest Management Centre (RMK). Every year, around 15% (about 600.000 m3) of the wood harvested by Estonian state forests is used for bioenergy. This wood is mainly derived from silvicultural thinnings and regeneration fellings and it is not suitable for other purposes such as construction or furniture production.
Using wood for heating has been a long tradition in Estonia and it has become the country’s main renewable energy source – already 89% of renewable energy used in Estonia is based on wood. This amounts to 2,1 million cubic meters a year, or some 20% of the country’s total annual cuttings. The demand for this renewable energy source, especially in the form of pellets, is growing. Low-quality wood is consumed mainly by heating plants and combined heat and power (CHP) installations. The demand for firewood for households in local markets should also not be underestimated. Wood energy allows consumers to save around 20-30% on their energy bills.
It should be noted that sufficient demand for lower-quality wood assortments and forest residues for bioenergy use supports the economic viability of forestry and incentivizes the silviculturally important but often costly tending of young forests. Timely tending is necessary to grow timber assortments for use in high value-added products such as furniture and construction materials. Therefore, the bioenergy sector enlarges the customer base for forest products, by creating demand for low quality wood and forest residues, and thus encourages the efficient use of all raw materials resulting from silvicultural operations in state forests.
“The production of wood pellets has helped us use our main natural resource wisely: Estonia has already reached its 2020 goals in using renewables,” says Ulvar Kaubi. “We have the knowledge and resources and we have the potential to further increase the production of bioenergy. This can be done by using wood which would otherwise be left in the forest to release carbon through decay.”
“The shift from fossil energy towards bioenergy is widely supported by Estonians. Wood is the largest alternative to non-renewables (like oil shale and natural gas) in Estonia and, as a state forest management organization, RMK is proud to be a part of this shift. Limiting the production of biomass for bioenergy would definitely mean remaining in the fossil era,” says Ulvar Kaubi.