Mass. DOER report includes biomass thermal

By Anna Austin | April 09, 2012

Following a request from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Meister Consultant Group has completed a study that evaluates renewable heating and cooling (RH&C) opportunities and impacts in the state.

The report evaluates biomass thermal, solar hot water and space heating, advanced biodiesel and high-efficiency heat pumps, assessing broad market barriers that inhibit development of renewable thermal markets. Those barriers include high upfront capital costs, inadequate policy support, poor public awareness of benefits, opaque regulatory standards and poor inter-industry coordination. It also briefly examines renewable thermal policies that have driven market development in the U.S. and internationally, focusing in particular on policies in European countries such as Germany, Austria, Sweden and the U.K.  

Additionally, the report considers the state of Massachusetts’ existing renewable thermal sectors, assessing their current market status, supply chain, market barriers and drivers, economics, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and job creation potential for each of the four technologies.

One key finding is that the biomass central heating market in Massachusetts is small, due in part to the absence of federal or state biomass heating incentives and policies. “However, stakeholders indicate that with the right market development mechanisms, the biomass heating market could expand significantly, achieving an annual growth rate of 97 percent or greater,” the report says.

Under an accelerated growth scenario, biomass heating could provide significant GHG and job creation benefits, according to the study, which estimates a potential 500,000 ton GHG reduction and the creation of more than 2,000 jobs by 2020.

A few biomass thermal-specific barriers are also identified in the report, one of which is that high efficiency, low emission biomass heating is subject to high upfront costs, especially at the residential level. As a result—in spite of the fact that biomass pellet heating systems have a lower levelized cost of energy than electric and fuel oil systems without incentives—a typical residential system is subject to a long payback. Commercial-scale systems are more competitive, due in part to improved economies of scale. 

Another barrier depicted in the report is that Massachusetts’ biomass heating market lacks the bulk fuel distribution infrastructure needed for growth. “As a result, the convenience of biomass heating to customers is significantly reduced,” it says. “Biomass stakeholders suggest that integrating existing fossil fuel distributors into the pellet heating market will be essential to drive vibrant market growth, enabling the industry to leverage existing distribution networks to sell pellets or chips and diversify heating fuel offerings.”

Now that the report is complete, the DOER intends to provide an outreach plan to discuss the findings in the study, help inform the development of a renewable thermal pilot program, and assess possible policy options.