Biomass power generation, already used to energize industrial facilities and distributed generation customers, currently accounts for some 3 percent of global electricity generation capacity.
While the technology offers dispatchable, baseload support to the grid, biomass energy is still largely dependent upon government subsidies in most areas. Still, analysts predict the generation technology to play a cornerstone role in meeting renewable energy portfolio targets.
Accelerated future growth depends on breakthroughs in densification processes and the commoditization of biomass resources for power production. According to a new report from Navigant Research, global installed biomass power capacity will grow gradually over the remainder of this decade, from 58.6 GW in 2013 to 82 GW in 2020, under a conservative forecast scenario.
Under a more aggressive scenario, installed capacity could reach 128.5 GW in 2020, the study concludes. The aggressive forecast scenario assumes an accelerated rate of biomass power installations across all regions, driven by factors including expanding trade flows in densified biomass, a surge in biomass integration across coal-burning power plants, and faster rates of integrated biorefinery infrastructure expansion, as well as other industrial cogeneration opportunities.
“While biomass feedstocks are available worldwide, the logistical challenges associated with its collection, aggregation, transportation, and handling, coupled with its poor energy density relative to fossil fuels, make the commercial generation of electricity from biomass viable in only a narrow set of circumstances,” says Mackinnon Lawrence, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “The global biomass power market currently faces a number of conflicting signals, and the use of biomass as a source of commercial power — despite incorporating proven technologies — still entails financing risk, limiting its expansion in comparison to other renewables.”
Although the future of dedicated biomass power facilities remains uncertain, biomass power can also optimize existing industrial processes. Increasingly, the use of biomass is improving the efficiency and profitability of facilities as a fuel for combined heat and power installations, reducing coal emissions through co-firing, and providing onsite generation for industrial facilities like biorefineries. According to the report, the growth outlook for these applications remains positive.