Biomass Power Potential Huge but Unrealized
Biomass potential unrealized, but waiting in the wings. Chris Zygarlicke’s discusses policy approaches and lessons learned for biomass power generation.
Biomass energy has yet to reach its full potential as a source of power despite growing interest throughout the world. Chris Zygarlicke, Deputy Associate Director for Research at North Dakota University’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), writing on the subject of biomass use for power generation explains:
As I see it right now, there is a real struggle to determine where biomass’ place is in the energy scheme worldwide.
A quick survey of policies around the world show that the EU had the most success at integrating biomass into their renewable energy mix, largely due to renewable energy mandates and carbon trading policies (see Knock on Wood: Rise and Fall…and Rise of EU Biomass). The United States and Canada, meanwhile, have some state- or province-driven renewable portfolio standards that have proven moderately successful at integrating biomass. Latin American countries are in the process of drafting federal mandates for biomass energy use. Most of Asia and Australia, which represent a renewable energy market with huge potential, have been so busy trying to deal with expanded coal and gas use that biomass has generally played second-fiddle.
Based on these examples, Zygarlicke concludes that the main drivers of biomass power are competitive costs, reduction in carbon emissions, and the need to dispose of unwanted or hazardous waste. The EU experience demonstrates that regulating carbon emissions can create enormous market incentive for biomass, especially if regimes are coupled with payments for abated or traded carbon. Although state renewable portfolio standards in the U.S. have successfully incentivized smaller biomass projects (10-50 MW), large biomass power projects (greater than 100 MW) have failed to gain traction as power generators demand biomass be cost-competitive with coal or gas.
Despite biomass’ tremendous potential for greenhouse gas mitigation, Zygarlicke explains that significant advances in biomass power generation are still waiting in the wings for drivers such as carbon regulations, carbon trading, renewable portfolio standards, or economic incentives.
Image: Flickr/Joe Dunckly