Online tool helps communities assess bioenergy feasibility

By Erin Voegele | September 06, 2013

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions has announced the availability of a new online calculator tool designed to help rural communities in British Columbia, Canada, determine if debris from wildfire prevention activities can serve as bioenergy feedstock. Details of the Fire Interface Rural Screening Tool for Heating (FIRST Heat) are outlined in a PICS white paper, titled “Fire in the Woods or Fire in the Boiler?”

The paper explores the opportunity to combine wildfire risk mitigation with bioenergy development to provide power to communities in British Columbia, particularly the 60 percent of the province’s area not connected to the natural gas grid. According to the paper, benefits of biomass energy development would reduce the cost of energy to local communities, create local jobs and increase community energy security.

According to the white paper, the calculator tool contains a library of different forest types, conditions and forest management style data. Rural communities can input their own site-specific economic, social and engineering parameter values, resulting in an estimate of the amount of sustainable biomass from wildfire risk reduction activities that could be made available to fuel district heating systems. The tool is also able to calculate the potential size and capital cost of a biomass boiler, along with estimated energy savings, job creation and greenhouse gas reductions.

“The new FIRST Heat tool offers communities in [British Columbia’s] forested interior the prospect of win-wins: spending less on energy while at the same time limiting exposure to forest fires,” said Tom Pedersen, executive director of PICS.

The PICS is a collaboration of British Columbia’s four research-intensive universities.  Researchers from the University of British Columbia, the Community Energy Association and the wood Waste to Rural Heat Project (formerly the Green Heat Initiative) produced the PICS-funded white paper. A copy of the white paper can be downloaded from the PICS website. The FIRST Heat tool can be accessed here