UNIT 1.3: Economic, Social and Ecological Impacts of Bioenergy at Local, National and Global Levels

This unit provides a comprehensive overview of the various potential consequences of bioenergy systems. Whereas bioenergy development provides opportunities for economic development and greater energy independence, the increased demand for bioenergy feedstocks and rural land can lead to resource depletion, unsustainable land use practices, and other unintended consequences for wildlife, people, and communities. These issues are discussed in this module using the conceptual frameworks of life-cycle analysis, ecosystem services, land use and land use change, and the trade-offs of bioenergy.

Renewable energy sources can meet energy demands while simultaneously increasing economic development and reducing environmental impacts.  Whether and to what degree bioenergy projects deliver on the simultaneous demands for energy and sustainability depends on numerous environmental, ecological and socio-economic factors varying from place-to-place and over time, as well as local, national, global expectations. There is no “one size fits all” answer to choosing and managing bioenergy projects for fulfilling multiple and sometimes competing demands.  This unit is designed to help you understand the nature of the various benefits and challenges of bioenergy from local to global scales, and prepare you to lead discussions among stakeholders who have a stake in  bioenergy projects in their communities.

Guiding Questions

  • What is life-cycle analysis and why is it important in determining the effects of bioenergy?
  • What social and economic considerations should communities take into consideration when analyzing bioenergy development?
  • How are bioenergy and food systems linked?  What are the primary drivers of increasing food prices?  Does bioenergy contribute to food price increases?
  • What are the direct and indirect effects of bioenergy on climate, and environmental and ecological resources?
  • What are the potential benefits and risks associated with use of marginal lands in production of biomass?
  • Does bioenergy potentially drive use of invasive plant species for biomass production?  In what ways might this pose a risk to ecological and environmental resources?
  • What is the concept of “trade-offs” and how is this related to costs and benefits of bioenergy?