Associations release renewable energy outlook paper

By Anna Simet | April 04, 2014

Multiple renewable energy trade association have teamed up to produce a single report that contains current market reviews, outlooks and policy recommendations for each respective sector, including biomass power, biomass thermal, waste-to-energy, ethanol, biodiesel and advanced biofuels.

According to contributor Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, the industry added up to more than 750 MW in 2013, a large portion of which is being generated from large-scale projects. All regions of the country have experienced some biomass growth, but the Southeast has experienced the most.

While opportunities for further development are difficult to predict, they are significant, from Cleaves’ perspective. State and federal programs are helping deploy biomass, but more must be done the federal level to ensure that existing biomass facilities remain financially secure, and that more facilities can be built where feasible.

Recommended federal policy changes include energy tax reform to promote all renewable technologies equally; recognition of the carbon benefits of bioenergy: and more recognition of biomass as a valuable renewable resource in federal and state energy policy and renewable targets.

On biomass thermal energy, the paper states that it provides more than 30 percent of all energy consumption in the U.S. Regions of growth in the U.S. include locations where there are high fossil fuel costs, reliable access to renewable biomass feedstocks and year-round or prolonged heat energy demand.

The report provides a snap shot of what the 2013 U.S. biomass thermal user mix looks like—approximately 10 million American households, 300 colleges and government buildings, and 500 combined-heat-and-power facilities, which used biomass thermal for part of or all heating needs. The sector’s growth over the next five years will hinge on the price volatility of competing fossil fuels such as propane, heating oil, and natural gas.

The residential biomass heating market grew by 34 percent from 2000 to 2010 with a cost advantage of 25 to 50 percent over propane and heating oil. Propane price spikes, such as occurred in the winter of 2014, tend to exacerbate this gap. Oil dependent markets like Massachusetts anticipate 20 percent residential and commercial growth through 2020, according to the outlook.

The waste-to-energy (WTE) industry, which consists of 84 waste-to-energy facilities in 23 states, has only expanded capacity during the last seven years, but development of greenfield facilities is occurring for the first time since the 1990s, according to the Waste Recovery Council. For example, Palm Beach County in Florida is constructing a new 3,000-ton-per-day WTE facility which will have an electric generating capacity of 96 MW, and Maryland has issued permits for new WTE facilities to be constructed and operated in Baltimore and Frederick. Many other municipalities are in discussions with technology developers to provide new WTE capacity locally, although the lead times for developing and constructing facilities are generally very time-consuming, according to the council.

Overall, the current U.S. WTE fleet has the capacity to process more than 96,000 tons of waste per day and has an electric capacity of 2,775 MWh.

Click here to read the full report, “The Outlook for Renewable Energy in America.”