We are back from our summer break with a very exciting interview. Our guest today is Pablo Rodero who’s the European Pellet Council ‘s President and also a representative of AVEBIOM, the ENplus® national licenser in Spain.
Pablo, what responsibilities do you have as a president of the European Pellet Council (EPC)? Why is EPC important for the pellet market in Europe?
The EPC is made up solely of wood pellet associations (currently 18). The EPC board consists of 5 representatives of these associations and I represent AVEBIOM in the presidency. I don't really have many responsibilities that differ from those of my fellow board members except for a few. By taking the role of a chairperson, I decide along with the General Manager of EPC the agenda of the meetings, and together with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of EPC – Gordon Murray we give our approval to the budgets proposed by the General Manager of the council and Bioenergy Europe. In addition, thanks to being President, I have a seat in the Core Group of the Bioenergy Europe’s Board of Directors.
I am very proud to be part of the board together with my colleagues from Italy (Matteo Favero from AIEL) who is EPC’s Vice President, Didzis Palejs from the LATbio, Matthew Goodwin from the UK Pellet Council and Gordon, whom I already mentioned, from the WPAC. We are involved in several very promising projects that I believe will take the certification system to the next level: the new documentation, the certification platform, etc.
EPC, apart from managing ENplus® on a global level, has a very important role in assisting national associations: obtaining firsthand market information, learning about experiences or activities of other associations in other countries, in short being a sort of “Hub” for information, experience and other resources. This undoubtedly has an impact on the improvements and the support that each national association can bring to their national market. For example, now that we are in a situation of global energy crisis causing tension in the European wood pellet market, we meet on a regular basis to exchange information and decide how to act.
In your opinion, how did the ENplus® certification contribute to the development and maturity of the residential market in Europe the past decade?
ENplus® had a huge influence on the sector development by transforming wood pellets into a commodity.
When my company, where I worked before AVEBIOM, started trading wood pellets (in 2006-2007), there were very few certified producers. For a trading company it was really complicated, and it was even more complicated for the businesses based outside Spain or Europe.
To give an example, when AVEBIOM started to implement ENplus® in Spain in 2011, we were one of the first 4 countries where the scheme was managed at a national level (alongside DEPI in Germany, ProPellets Austria in Austria and AIEL in Italy). By the end of 2011, we already had 4 certified companies in Spain. In the following years it went almost in exponential progression until 2016 where the curve flattened out. Now the market share of ENplus® certified pellets is 86%. Both sellers and buyers know exactly what product they deal with (ENplus® class A1 or A2). Since all certified companies are audited periodically and there’s a complaint system in place, the certification gives great security and peace of mind to their customers. As of August 2022, ENplus® has issued 57 producer certificates and 41 trader certificates only in Spain.
In my country, most pellet producers are small companies and the implementation of the ENplus® quality management system has helped them a lot. ENplus® introduced trainings, guides (for storage, transportation, self-inspections, complaint managements, etc.) providing producers and traders with a “way of working”.
And if it has been important for producers, I would say it has been even more important for traders. First because the other certification schemes don’t cover the whole supply chain but also because Spanish traders are predominantly small companies and implementing a quality management system was very good for their professionalism.
Focusing only on Spain, do you expect more producers and traders to get certified or has the scheme reached its peak in your country?
The number of certified producers has been growing slowly lately. We had a boom in 2014-2017 and from then on what has been growing more rapidly, and we expect it to continue to grow in the coming years, are the traders.
On the one hand, production has been increasing, not because the number of producers has been growing very much but because these producers have been increasing their production as they have been gaining market share, upgrading equipment, etc. On the other hand, after the energy crisis we are experiencing, it is likely that in the next few months some new projects will be launched.
When it comes to the pellet consumers, do Spanish people know what ENplus® stands for? How did you achieve it?
Indeed, for quite a few years now, I think since 2014-2015, Spanish consumers have known that ENplus® means quality that guarantees you excellent performance, cleanliness, and assurance that your heating appliance will work properly.
AVEBIOM has obviously worked on the promotion of certified wood pellets through events, media publications, social media activities and a special mention should be made of the communication campaign carried out a few years ago (2015-2016) called "Biomasa en tu casa" (Biomass in your home) with which we had a strong impact. As part of this campaign, we took six modified containers to most of the big cities in the country and we placed them in the central squares where we explained the benefits of biomass to everyone who passed by.
Although we’ve been working hard on the ENplus® promotion, we are a small association with a limited reach. We believe that a key role for the increasing popularity of wood pellets has been played by their availability in large supermarkets (DIY shops).
Still, maybe we should also count that wood pellets are an eco-friendly and cheap source of energy especially in these times when heating costs have increased so much. It must have helped a lot. Last December, even before the war but with energy prices already on the rise, one of the trending topics in Spanish TV channels and newspapers was the sharp growth of pellet appliances sales.
What is the future of the pellet market? What is your prediction for 2027 (exactly 5 years from now)?
Pellet professionals that have been in the sector for many years know that it is very difficult to foresee market trends that far ahead. The whole world and in particular the Europeans are affected by an energy crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine and later by the blackmail of the gas flow reduction in Nord stream pipelines. This situation has accelerated the process of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources that had already started years ago with European policies. In addition to this process, due to the war caused by Russia, the EU, among other sanctions, banned the import of wood and all its derivatives, including pellets.
These circumstances have put a lot of pressure on the market, which was already experiencing a strong increase in demand due to the aforementioned ongoing process of switching to renewable energies. In my opinion, this whole situation will affect the wood pellet market the coming heating season and probably partially do it again the next one.
But fortunately, thanks to the fact that wood pellets are an endogenous energy source, supply will soon increase dramatically. We already know that there are quite a few new plants that will start production between 2023 and 2025: 11 in Austria alone in 2023-2024; France will have an additional one million tonnes of pellets available by the end of 2024; Germany, where there will be another 800,000 tonnes more expected in 2023.
We also foresee that, given the circumstances and the forestry potential that some countries (Spain, France, Poland, Baltic countries, etc.) still have, there’s a lot of room for growth in their exploitation and new pellet plant projects could be launched.
Furthermore, coming from a Mediterranean country like Spain, I should mention that we have a serious problem with forest fires. In the Mediterranean countries, it is imperative that we reduce the amount of fuel so that fires are less aggressive. This is a clear synergy with the biomass energy that should use these forest residuals to clean the affected areas for which all organizations, including environmentalists, are crying out for.
So, answering the question about the 2027 forecast, we are very optimistic for the market given the projects and the boost wood pellets have had in recent years due to the high prices of other energy sources. Moreover, coming from the explanation above, I believe that at the European market we will be even more self-sufficient and free of external political tension.