The worldwide love affair with subsidized green energy is fading fast but that shouldn't be taken to mean the science is not solid.
In America, new power plants are difficult to get built and as a result the cost of electricity has gone up while the supply has gone down. Yet the government seems to still want to fast track alternative energy and regulations that allow small biomass plants may also help solve a grid problem that solar and wind energy only make worse.
Small biomass power plants that can fit on a farm and can be built at relatively low cost may be better than giant wind and solar plants that are opposed by environmental groups.
"Transporting power through power lines to remote, rural areas is very inefficient and can be expensive for farmers and other rural citizens," said University of Missouri economics professor Tom Johnson. "Farmers already have access to a large amount of biomass material left over each year after harvests. If they had access to small biomass power plants, they could become close to self-sustaining in terms of power. If the grid was improved enough, they could even provide additional power to other people around the country, helping to stabilize the national power grid. This could help save rural citizens money and be a boon for rural economies."
Johnson says that as citizens of rural areas become bioenergy producers, they will realize other advantages. First, local transportation costs are lower compared to regions that must import transportation fuels providing local businesses with an advantage over urban centers. Second, major consumers of processed energy, such as some manufacturers and firms with large air conditioning needs, will find rural areas more attractive because of their lower prices for energy. Johnson says none of these benefits will be realized unless policymakers work with people from rural areas to provide funding to grow the infrastructure.
"This is unlikely to occur without clearly articulated goals coupled with strategic guidance from policy," Johnson said. "We need an integration of policy and programs among community leaders, rural entrepreneurs and economic developers or practitioners who act as conduits between entrepreneurs and policy. In order to grow this bioeconomy, the goals of these actors need to be aligned."
Johnson does warn that if this bioeconomy system is created, safeguards must be in place to protect the renewable resources, such as biomass. He also says mechanisms must be in place to ensure an equitable distribution of the rewards from investing; otherwise, local citizens risk becoming impoverished by the destruction of renewable resources and potential environmental degradation.
Published in Biomass and Bioenergy. Source: University of Missouri-Columbia