Biomass Power in 2040: Putting the Magnifying Glass on EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2013

By Kolby Hoagland | December 06, 2012

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released their Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) for 2013 yesterday, which Biomass Magazine gave an overview of here. In this week’s Maps and Data blog, we take a focused look at the projections for renewable power production, particularly electricity from biomass. The AEO 2013 projects a healthy 2% annual growth rate of renewable power production from a current a level of 8.8 quads to 14.6 quads by 2040. Among the renewable power sources, solar photovoltaic is projected to show the greatest annual rate of growth, followed by biomass power with a near 8% annual growth rate. Conventional hydroelectric currently makes up the greatest portion of renewable power, but, not surprisingly, hydro is projected to have the lowest annual growth rate since all the prime areas for large hydroelectric dams have either already been developed or are protected wildlife areas. Characterized in the graph below, the AEO 2013 projects that dedicated biomass power production will climb at a steady rate of around 3%, while cofiring will have a rapid period of growth from 2016 to 2022 and then level off. With the sharp six year climb, cofiring biomass demonstrates the greatest annual growth rate among the biomass sources at nearly 13%. EIA makes these forecasts by considering current energy and related policy and the physical factors of the energy paradigm (fuel availability, fuel transport infrastructure, demand, etc.). The EIA states that the projected spike in cofiring biomass is due to competitive biomass prices related to coal, stringent air emission regulation, and state RPSs. The AEO 2013 anticipates that coal fired plants will choose to save money, improve emissions and help meet RPSs by cofiring small amounts of biomass (2-4% of fuel mix) with coal. In 2022, cofiring levels off due to the logistics of handling less energy dense biomass and the physical limits of burning biomass in coal boilers among numerous other factors. The AEO is used by policy makers and industry to understand how current energy trends along with policy will affect the future production and consumption of energy. Though energy forecasts are difficult to carry out and often wrong, energy forecasts like EIA’s AEO are an important tool to help us understand how policy and physical limits will confine or expand growth in the various parts of the energy sector.