A critical appraisal of the effectiveness of UK perennial energy crops policy since 1999
Energy crops are cultivated primarily for bioenergy production, but can also have wider benefits to agriculture and the environment. Policies put in place in the UK and Europe have promoted bioenergy and the growth of energy crops. Despite the various policy support mechanisms the cultivation of perennial energy crops has proceeded at a low rate. This study rigorously analyses some of the key UK bioenergy policies since 1990 to assess why perennial energy crops have not fulfilled their potential. The UK energy crops market is scrutinised and shows the industry is still nascent compared to Government aspirations. Case studies of both successful and unsuccessful projects are evaluated to reveal how effective different policies have been in establishing UK perennial energy crops. This original review shows significantly that none of the projects, initiatives or schemes described can be viewed as an absolute success. The main obstacles that have hindered progress include: the lack of long term supportive energy crops policy, the failure of headline projects and organisations, the lack of competitiveness of long term perennial crop options compared to annual crops, bureaucracy of schemes, over-ambitious projects, and large-scale support schemes tending to favour imported biomass rather than support domestic supply.
25 years of failed energy crops policy suggests there needs to be a long term strategy. Future support for the sector must join up policy between different Government departments to recognise multi-functional benefits of perennial energy crops. Support mechanisms could aim to provide a competitive advantage for local supply and use, and improve management of cashflows during establishment. The risk burden should be shared between suppliers and end-users. Smaller-scale projects using established technologies are required with energy crops introduced in a phased manner. Supply-side measures need to be balanced with demand-side incentives to link supply with end-user markets.