July 30, 2008

The Case for Bioenergy

I am frequently asked why we should pursue the production of biofuels and biopower when we could substitute other seemingly simpler and "cleaner" alternatives - like wind and solar - that don't require such complicated biomass logistics. A recent article I found on the European-based Biopact Blog supplies a partial answer.

Americans should heed the experience of the Europeans because they have been coping with expensive petrochemicals for decades, have fewer natural resources, have a more sophisticated infrastructure for producing and distributing energy, have higher demand for heat in the winter, and, sad to say, have been more open than Americans to alternatives - including nuclear power. NIMBYism is not an option. Many of the continental energy solutions involve centralized heat and power (CHP) whereby the heat of energy production is converted into steam and distributed to the local community.

European microcosms are like labs for alternatives - France for nuclear power, the Netherlands for wind, Germany for solar, and Scandanavia for biopower. On the biofuels side, they produce and use biodiesel to supplement the dominant fuel of the continent.While there are no precedents for many of the technologies being deployed here, I have been impressed by the practice of utilities and policymakers to fly overseas to see firsthand how new technologies are being fostered by policymaking and how they perform once deployed.

Below is the introduction to the article...

RAB: biomass now the key renewable energy source, as backlash against wind and solar grows

Biomass energy is increasingly touted as the key renewable in the push to green Europe's electricity supplies, says David Williams, chairman of the UK government's Renewables Advisory Board's (RAB) biomass sub-group. This is so because biomass shows the best economic and CO2-abatement performance of all the renewables, because it can be transported and traded globally, and because it is far more reliable than intermittent sources.

In recent months, the UK has changed its position on renewables, says Williams, with a backlash against many more established alternative energy sources like wind and solar power and liquid biofuels. In the transport sector, first-generation biofuels have been attacked for their potential effect on food prices and actual carbon reductions. Wind and solar are being heavily criticised for their inability to produce a consistent stream of electricity and for their cost. Wind power can be two to three times more expensive than biomass; solar PV up to twenty times, and solar CSP up to five times. There are no efficient energy storage options for these renewables, making them incapable of providing baseloads.

That is why many industry experts are now suggesting that biomass has to play the primary role in helping the EU to meet its challenging target of generating 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, says the RAB's biomass chairman.
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1 comment:

Chris said...

I think there are definite advantages to biofuels. They would certainly buy us time to develop complimentary alternatives.

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