Biomass Plants: Go Small And It Could Help Stabilize The National Power Grid
    By News Staff | March 10th 2014 04:31 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    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


    Small scale biomass generation poses serious threats to the environment, the economy, and as a long term energy resource, is inadequate. Europe currently imports wood pellets from the US to fuel their failing biomass investment.
    At this time, it doesn't make sense.

    So what do you recommend? The grid is not getting fixed until it collapses, at least in California power companies are regulated heavily and can't own lines so they are not fixing them. That means electric cars could crash us easily unless we do something to make energy less grid intensive.
    There is currently plenty of capacity available in CA to serve 95% of the total area. Your point is a good one, but I think it is unlikely the rate of adoption of EV will be slower than you are thinking. If it does, time of use pricing will be adjusted to accommodate. In fact, TOU or CPP pricing has already been expanded to affect more and smaller power users, and the next big demand response push will be focused on the residential market, where there is HUGE potential.

    Small scale biomass generation poses serious threats to the environment, the economy, and as a long term energy resource, is inadequate. Europe currently imports wood pellets from the US to fuel their failing biomass investment.
    At this time, small scale biomass doesn't make sense.
    "Netherlands Energy Agreement kills EPZ biomass plan"
    "European Union "sustainability criteria" for biomass energy fail to protect the climate or our forests "

    Comparing the European model of importing pellets for biomass power generation to implementing biomass Distributed Energy, AD processes, or biofuels production in rural America is not a valid comparison. Local use of local resources while maintaining local infrastructure is going to be effective and responsive to local needs. I do not however buy the whole, businesses will flock to rural areas because of bioenergy electric generation. In fact if anything else that just generates its own bizarre backwards cycle where the demands of industry will outstrip capacity if for no other reason than every manufacturer who moves in will eventually swallow up rural farm resources. But I'm just simple folk. Let the really smart people keep plucking away at it. That's what they be good at.

    Its simply not a good idea to burn anything to generate electricity, except natural gas. There are better ways to generate power; conservation being one of them. BTW - I personally observed the scraping of the forest floor to harvest bio mass to burn for energy. The ground cover was removed and so was a critical part of the micro-environment supporting other plant growth. As demand grows, anything burnable becomes a target. Especially when the biomass stream fluctuates, is unpredictable, because of weather, crop rotation or changes in crop types.