European countries rich in forest have an easier time in the energy crisis

Stacked firewood.
Stacked firewood. Source: Olev Kenk /ERR

The relatively low price of wood heating is a benefit in the energy crisis. That said, the price of firewood has doubled over the last year and less fortunate Europeans could find it difficult to stock up for the winter.

Europe is heated mostly using gas. The forest-rich and sparsely populated Estonia, residents of which rely heavily on firewood, is rather an exception, TalTech Professor Jarek Kurnitski says.

"Smoking chimneys would be a major problem in cities. But yes – Bulgaria, Romania – these countries have a lot of rural dwellings where wood is used. More similar to Estonia are Finland, Sweden and other countries rich in forest."

For example, it is customary in Finland for a house to have a fireplace that is heated once a day, next to electric heating. Because the price of gas is growing faster than the price of firewood, countries with plenty of forest have an advantage.

Still, the price of firewood has doubled over the last year. A Eurostat survey from 2020 found that 27 percent of Bulgarians could not always afford to heat their dwelling. Considering that rural areas tend to have more poverty, the growing price of firewood could spell a cold winter for least fortunate Europeans.

This concern led the Polish government to offer its citizens the chance to collect brush from state forests. This is also possible in Estonia, while people have to pay for the privilege here. The right is usually granted in cases where people living close to woods ask for it, Ulvar Kaubi, head of timber marketing for state forest manager RMK, says.

"We make around 52 brush transactions with individuals every year. It is no considerable volume. We have calculated that a person could collect 8-10 cubic meters of branches from a hectare of forest. The price per hectare is €66 plus VAT currently."

On the other hand, the energy timber price advance constitutes an opportunity for forest-heavy countries like Estonia, forestry expert Heiki Hepner suggested. But to cash in and offset price advance through supply, preparations for felling should be underway by now.

"That work should be done by today. Getting to it in the second half of summer, we might manage to bring some of it to the market, while the lion's share of the effect will land in 2023. If we don't start today, we will have to put up with very high firewood prices again a year from now," Hepner suggests.

However, this would only help forest-rich countries give up Russian gas. It is impossible to switch to wood heating elsewhere in Europe, Kurnitski says.

"Giving up gas can only happen on the backs of heat pumps. Wood heating is too small of a niche to affect the big picture. It will have a role to play in sparsely populated countries that have a lot of woods, like Finland or Estonia. But I would not anticipate a renaissance of wood heating. At the end of the day, it boils down to air quality, which is problematic in major cities," the TalTech professor suggests.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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