Biomass Fuel, Energy, Power Counterpoint

Biomass is a term being more frequently used for renewable fuel, energy and power made from any organic material from plants or animals. Sources are organic crops, plants, and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, and residues from plants, crops, wood, and animals-in other words what is left over or scraps. The usable by-products are gas additives (ethanol and biodiesel), methane gas (burned as fuel), and organic fibers and wood (for heat and generating electricity).

I became more interested in biomass after previously covering the following topics:

Solar Power/ Energy

Wind Turbine Power

Natural Gas Car Fuel

U.S. Oil Reserves

Price of Oil

Corn Food Fuel

Car Fuel Efficiency

Global Warming and Energy Reserves

Electrical Utilities are facing new rules requiring them to generate 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2020. Solar and wind power has been considered by most utilities and many don’t have the resources, or have run into legislative roadblocks. With all Utilities being required to meet quotas, they are now considering, and building, “Biomass” Power Plants, since they can get significant federal tax credits.

Most studies are based on data such as that from “The Engineering Toolbox”.  The data shows that the biomass energy is free, since the process is considered nearly carbon neutral, because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. The time and volume of usage is neglected-it is not explained that more is used than grown, and in between there are fewer trees to absorb the carbon dioxide. The real world is more like Fig. 3 Plot “Pounds of CO2 per KWH” of the article “How to measure fuel efficiency, energy costs, and carbon emissions for home heating”.  Both coal and wood have the same high-level carbon footprint.

An interesting article, “Biomass Energy Facts”, is a good comprehensive worthwhile list. It is not mentioned that renewable energy in 2007 was 7% of the US energy supply, and of this 3% is biomass. In 2020 20% of US energy is to be by renewable, with a good part of the increase by biomass, meaning a much-increased usage of wood from trees that takes time to replace and is now a big source of CO2 absorption.

Of major concern is that states (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Missouri, etc.) are now proceeding with biomass energy projects based on the process being considered nearly carbon neutral because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. Is this a fact-based conclusion? And will the increased biomass usage have any effect on the natural cycling of CO2 because it takes time for volume replacement?

Other biomass information of interest:

Biomass Emissions-Air Emissions from Modern Wood Energy Systems

Massachusetts Forest and Environment Threatened

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Solar Power/Energy Counterpoint


Solar Power/Energy refers to the utilization of the radiant energy from the Sun. It refers more specifically to the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either by photovoltaics or concentrating solar thermal devices. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the Earth is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.


As of 2007, the total installed capacity of solar hot water systems is approximately 154 GW. China is the world leader in their deployment with 70 GW installed as of 2006. Chinese government officials signed an agreement on Tuesday (9/8/09) with First Solar, an American solar developer, for a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in the Mongolian desert. Israel is the per capita leader in the use of solar hot water systems with 90% of homes using them.


Photovoltaics (PV) has mainly been used to power small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to off-grid homes powered by a photovoltaic array. Germany, Japan, US, and Spain have become the leaders in the PV market. It is expected that by 2009 over 90% of commercial photovoltaics, installed in the United States, will be installed using a power purchase agreement. Grid parity (cost), the point at which photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than grid power, is achieved first in areas with abundant sun and high costs for electricity such as in California, Hawaii, and Japan. It is not common knowledge, but George W. Bush has set 2015 as the date for grid parity in the USA. Here are some examples of large-scale photovoltaic power plants and here are some more.


Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated light is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant.


Storage is an important issue in the development of solar energy because modern energy systems usually assume continuous availability of energy. Solar energy is not available at night, and the performance of solar power systems is affected by unpredictable weather patterns; therefore, storage media or back-up power systems must be used.


Solar installations in recent years have also largely begun to expand into residential areas, with governments offering incentive programs to make “green” energy a more economically viable option. The program allows residential homeowner installations to sell the energy they produce back to the electrical power grid. It has now been stated by the chairman of the 2008 European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference that photovoltaics can cover all the world energy demand.


The Solar Electric Power Association made a statement concerning the historical announcement that “The Pacific Gas and Electric Utility (PG&E) will develop two photovoltaic (PV) power plants equivalent to almost double the amount of current U.S. grid-connected PV capacity”.


Florida Power and Light (FP&L) unveils the plans to build Florida’s first large-scale solar thermal power plant (CPS), one of the largest such plants in the world. It also announced new solar energy projects that include the world’s largest photovoltaic solar plant and first “hybrid” energy center, coupling solar thermal technology with an existing combined-cycle generation unit.


As can be seen from the brief “Solar Power/Energy Counterpoint” facts article, solar energy is becoming one of the most viable alternatives for electric power generation. We don’t hear much about it, but it has the possibilities of playing an important part in the new energy resources available without much say-so from known government programs (except for insentives).

Of interest are the candidate’s views on technological issues: Energy, Climate change, Space program, skilled worker shortage, and technology.

Some more interesting articles:

  1. A Solar Grand Plan.
  2. Are solar photovoltaics just to costly?
  3. Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007.
  4. Solar Power: The Pros and Cons of Solar Power.
  5. Machine Design Editorial: The Economics of Renewable Energy

Wind Turbine Power Counterpoint

 

I have become interested in the use of wind turbine farms that are springing up for producing electrical power. This article will look at some of the present facts.

See Panoramic Photos of an Illinois Wind Turbine Farm located near Paw Paw, Illinois.

 

At the end of 2007, worldwide capacity of wind-powered generators was 94.1 gigawatts or approximately1% of world-wide electricity use. The largest producers account for approximately 19% of electricity production in Denmark, 9% in Spain and Portugal, and 6% in Germany and the Republic of Ireland (2007 data). Globally, wind power generation increased more than fivefold between 2000 and 2007. Wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be equivalent to 54,000 MToE (million tons of oil equivalent) per year, or over five times the world’s current energy use in all forms.

 

Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the United States for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MWh, coal at $53.10/MWh and natural gas at $52.50. In the United States, wind power receives a tax credit for each kilowatt-hour produced; at 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2006. Without this tax credit there would be little new wind power generation in the US.

 

Advantages

 

  1. Wind power is nearly pollution free.
  2. Wind power is intermittent and unpredictable.
  3. Wind power allows for greater electrical power diversity.
  4. Reduced environmental impact for electrical power.

Disadvantages

 

  1. Electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels.
  2. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country.
  3. Wind farms require wind speed (min 6 m/s) and large tracts of space.
  4. Lack of electrical-grid capacity to carry the power from the isolated places.
  5. Much of the boom in the United States is being driven by foreign power companies with experience developing wind projects.
  6. Wind energy will not reduce US oil dependence.
  7. There are pitfalls in wind energy cost analysis.

 

From the facts, it appears that wind turbine power will be a viable source as long as there is a tax advantage or financial support. Wind energy costs can be cut substantially if a wind project is owned by a utility, and could also be sharply reduced if wind developers could obtain the same financing terms as gas power plant developers.

Of interest are the candidate’s views on technological issues: Energy, Climate change, Space program, skilled worker shortage, and technology.

Some more interesting articles: 

  1. Largest wind turbine.
  2. Wind power info.
  3. Delaware offshore wind farm.
  4. Great Lakes Wind over water.
  5. Wind Power poised for significant growth.
  6. Machine Design Editorial: The Economics of Renewable Energy