NEWS IN THE WORLD OF POWER AND INTEGRATED BUILDING SYSTEMS
Biomass Not Yet Ready for Prime Time
IN THE AGE OF SUSTAINABILITY,
every conceivable energy source gets
equal consideration. Just as wind and
solar power have had their growing pains,
other viable sources will, too.
According to a recent analysis,
biomass faces significant economic
hurdles. Economists at Oregon State
University’s College of Forestry
announced in December that they had
conducted an analysis of the costs of
collecting, transporting and processing
biomass through potential regional
processing facilities in western Oregon.
All of the sites were adjacent to an
existing or recently closed wood product
operation, such as a sawmill or plywood
The study, published in Forest Policy
and Economics, calculated that the cost of
harvesting, chipping and loading biomass
at timber-harvesting sites comes to about
$37.50 per dry ton. Operating costs of a
regional depot would add another $11 per
dry ton. These estimates do not include
transportation and depot construction.
With these kinds of numbers, the
economists concluded that changes
in technology, from transportation to
processing, would be required to improve
the economic feasibility of biomass.
They added that feasibility may also
depend on public investments and new
markets to create so-called value-added
products, such as aviation fuel or industry
The study also looked at the potential
for creating jobs in rural communities
where biomass processing is most likely
to occur. The numbers don’t appear to
support that benefit either.
“There’s a lot of interest in focusing
on the use of biomass to support rural
communities,” said Mindy Crandall, an
assistant professor at the University of
Maine and a doctoral student at Oregon
State, who led the research. “From a
strictly market feasibility perspective,
it isn’t all that likely that these facilities
will be located in remote, struggling
rural communities without targeted
subsidies or support.”
Columbus Microgrid Project Pushes to Make City Smarter
IN NOVEMBER, as part of a larger plan to decarbonize the
power supply and transportation in Columbus, Ohio, American
Electric Power (AEP) announced plans to invest $52 million to
build between eight and 10 microgrids in and around the city.
The project is part of a smart city design for Columbus that
includes electric vehicle chargers, smart lighting, distribution
substation security technology and a next-generation utility
The utility plans to build the microgrids over a four-year
period at critical facilities in and around Columbus, including
police and fire stations, hospitals, water and sewer facilities,
shelters and social service centers, and gas stations.
In addition to the $52 million project, AEP Ohio is also
seeking approval to recover $1.5 million per year for the
operation and maintenance of the microgrids, to be funded by a
distribution technology rider on customers’ bills.
AEP Ohio, in filing its proposal with the Public Utilities
Commission as part of an update to its Electric Security Plan,
also noted that these microgrids are just the first in what are
expected to be additional microgrid projects in the future.
“AEP Ohio hopes that this initial demonstration project
will create the blueprint for additional, larger-scale microgrid
deployment to be proposed in a later proceeding,” said Scott
Osterholt, director of distribution risk and project management
for the utility.
In its proposal, the utility noted a number of anticipated
benefits of the microgrids, including improved power delivery
reliability, reduced system peak demand, and the integration of
renewable energy (since the microgrids will include solar-plus-storage) with natural gas turbines serving as a marginal system
resource. The utility estimates that the microgrids will be able to
reduce greenhouse gases by 3.176 tons per year.
AEP Ohio anticipates another possible benefit: the
microgrids, which will be connected to the electric grid, will
be able to offer ancillary services and demand response to the
PJM market. (PJM is a regional transmission organization that
coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states in
the Northeastern United States.)
“According to the Energy Storage Association, battery storage
can respond to electric control area operator requests to adjust
power output considerably faster and more accurately than can
combustion turbine generators,” Osterholt said.