Advancing Biomass Combined Heat and Power Technology - Supporting Rural California, the Environment, and the Electrical Grid
January 25, 2021
Energy Research and Development (500)
Electric Program Investment Charge - EPIC
Camille Swezy, Jonathan Kusel
Community-scale biomass energy represents an opportunity to link renewable energy generation with forest restoration, reduced wildfire risk, and rural economic development. The Plumas Health and Human Services Center biomass facility blends biomass boiler technology with an organic Rankine cycle electricity generator to provide heat and power to a county office building, lowering and stabilizing its electrical consumption. This facility demonstrates how multiple benefits can be achieved through the targeted implementation of advanced renewable combined heat and power technology based on woody biomass in the commercial and institutional building sector.
This project demonstrated that combining heat and power generation with heat use is essential to the economics of community-scale biomass energy; combustion of dry fuel improves overall system operations and efficiencies while increasing cost savings and reducing emissions; and organic Rankine cycle power generation from biomass is best suited when it supplements heat-led systems to improve economics.
With credit due to a dedicated project team and partners, this project has been a success, and it demonstrates the viability of biomass heat and power applications at a community scale in rural forested communities of California. Sierra Institute will continue to serve as a resource and support entities in Plumas County and beyond that have interest in biomass energy, as part of its commitment to building capacity, promoting replication, and sharing lessons learned from its work. It is essential that entities interested in biomass energy recognize and value the variety of co-benefits these systems provide and consider more than just cost. Capital costs of biomass boilers are higher than fossil fuel boilers, but will likely have reduced operational costs and more stable fuel pricing, and importantly contribute to restoration of California’s forests and help California achieve its carbon neutrality goals.