Worldwatch report highlights biomass power, CHP

By Ron Kotrba
Web exclusive posted Dec. 9, 2008 at 12:42 p.m. CST

A new report from the Worldwatch Institute, titled "Low-Carbon Energy: A Roadmap," was released in early December. Author of the report, Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin, stated that increased biomass power production and more combined heat and power (CHP) systems are integral to retiring "hundreds of coal-fired power plants that now provide 40 percent of the world's power by 2030, eliminating up to one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions while creating millions of new jobs."

The institute calls this modern-day evolution the decarbonization of the global energy economy. "We no longer need to say ‘in the future' when talking about a low-carbon energy system," Flavin said. "These technologies – unlike carbon-capture facilities – are being deployed now and are poised to make the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels obsolete."

CHP and biomass are not the only weapons needed in the fight against climate change – solar and wind power, green building practices and more will also be pivotal requisites – but both biomass power and CHP are important components of a larger decarbonization strategy needed to "stave off the greatest human-caused threat our planet has seen," Flavin said.

According to the U.S. DOE, conventional conversion of fuel to electricity wastes more than two-thirds of the energy resident in the feedstock (e.g., coal, etc.) as heat released into environment, rather than being used for productive purposes. CHP makes greater use of fuel inputs by utilizing the discarded heat with potential efficiencies ranging from between 60 and 80 percent. Worldwatch Institute stated in its December 2 release, "CHP can reduce those losses to less than 20 percent and provide the United States with 150 gigawatts of generating capacity – more than nuclear power now provides." DOE supports the doubling of U.S. CHP capacity to 92 gigawatts by 2010.

The challenge to President-elect Barack Obama and his administration, the institute forewarns, is to maintain the momentum of the past few years despite a global financial crisis of epic proportions. "The new industries, which are dominated by small, under-capitalized companies, are particularly vulnerable," Worldwatch cautioned. "Their success will depend on targeted and flexible policy design in the months ahead."

In its report, Worldwatch Institute estimated that, in 2007 alone, investment in new renewable electric and heating capacity equaled approximately $71 billion; up from just $20 billion in 2002.