Assessing Biomass Generation and Performance in 2017-2018


Biomass energy is on the upswing, and is becoming entrenched as a part of many states’ renewable energy portfolios. While it is still largely regional, biomass has widespread appeal because it is scalable, provides baseline energy, is price-competitive, and is carbon neutral.

How quickly is biomass growing? And how much capacity will be expected throughout the rest of 2018?

Biomass Generation in 2017

According to a report from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), approximately 268 MW of power capacity from biomass sources was added to the nation’s power supply in 2017.

This amount is over double that of the capacity added in 2016 (110 MW).

FERC’s records show that biomass generated 14,614 MW of power through 725 power generation units. The 268 MW of capacity came from 26 new biomass units added to the production mix. While the total number of installations was down from 2016, when 57 units were turned on, the amount of additional capacity per unit increased (10.3 MW per unit in 2017 versus 1.9 MW per unit in 2016).

At the end of 2017, it was estimated that biomass supplied 1.4 percent of total installed capacity in the United States.

Projected Biomass Generation in 2018

Looking forward, more capacity is expected throughout the next year. But there’s an interesting division in the figures being reported.

Overall, biomass is expected to increase, but the gains in biomass generation will come from waste biomass, not wood biomass. Waste biomass is expected to provide 0.287 quadrillion Btu (quad) of energy to power plants in 2018, up from 0.274 quad in 2017. But wood biomass generation will drop from 0.24 quad to 0.22 quad in 2018.

When it comes to electricity generation, waste biomass will see its numbers go from 57,000 MWh generated per day to 60,000 MWh generated per day in 2018.

Factors Affecting Biomass Expansion

Regulatory uncertainty arguably has been the biggest single factor impacting biomass expansion over the past half-decade.

The Obama administration EPA began a process that would clarify the impact of biomass on carbon emissions, but they never came to a conclusive decision. The Trump EPA, however, is working to clarify the carbon neutrality of biomass in a move that would favor the industry.

Another factor that could be a positive one for biomass is the recent decision by the Trump administration to place a 30% tariff on imported solar panels. Solar panels in the U.S. largely come from China and other exporters, so a 30% tariff will make solar expansion prohibitively expensive for most domestic solar producers – which will likely work in the favor of biomass.

As wind and solar move through difficult times, biomass will appear more business-friendly than its more widely-used cousins.

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