Bioenergy sector gets new support price structure from Govt

25 May 2010

A new price will allow the connection of more than 200MW of renewable electricity to the national grid, boosting the rural economy.

The bioenergy announcement from Energy Minister Eamon Ryan TD regarding the Government’s new support price structure for bioenergy will propel an additional 200MW of renewable electricity to the national grid. Businesses will be in a position to produce their own electricity and sell surplus to the grid.

The guaranteed support price (REFIT) will range from 15 cent per kilowatt hour to 8.5 cent an hour depending on the technology deployed.

The technologies supported include anaerobic digestion combined heat and power (CHP), biomass CHP and biomass combustion, including provision for 30pc co-firing of biomass in the three peat-powered stations – Edenderry (owned by Bord na Móna) and West Offaly Power and Lough Ree Power (both owned by ESB). The total capacity of these plants is currently 360MW.

It is hoped that these new Government tariffs will foster the development of a robust and sustainable biomass supply sector in Ireland, driving demand for biomass and supporting the measures already in place, such as the REHEAT programme (Renewable Heat Deployment) and the Energy Crop grant schemes run by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

At forefront of the green economy’

Announcing the measure, Ryan said: “I have always maintained that Irish farmers could be at the forefront of the green economy and the fight against climate change. This new Government support price has the potential to contribute to economic recovery in rural Ireland as well as reducing our overall national dependence on imported fossil fuels. 

“Business will also benefit from the ability to produce their own electricity on site and sell the surplus to the national grid. This is a further measure to promote the decarbonisation of our electricity generation in Ireland. I look forward to working with farmers and the industry to help our rural economy develop.”

The introduction of these tariffs could also have a knock-on effect jobs-wise. For businesses with a substantial heat load, biomass CHP offers them the opportunity to produce their own electricity and sell the surplus to the national grid. For businesses faced with organic waste management bills, anaerobic digestion will allow them to treat their own waste onsite with heat that can be used in process as well as being a valuable fertiliser. Businesses that deploy anaerobic digestion will also have the capacity to sell surplus power to the national grid.

“In many ways, this is only the start of our work to progress bioenergy in Ireland,” Ryan said.

“The Bioenergy Working Group report is currently being worked on in the Department of Energy. This report, which will be published shortly, will make a number of further recommendations on the development of bioenergy. I look forward to the completion of this important report.”

REFIT (Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff) is designed to provide certainty to renewable electricity generators as to the price they receive. In operation for wind and hydro power since 2006, it operates on a sliding scale, acting to ensure a guaranteed price for each unit of electricity exported to the grid by paying the difference between the wholesale price for electricity and the REFIT price. 

According to DCENR:

Co-firing potential

  • Co-firing at 30pc would involve replacing about 900,000 tonnes of peat with biomass every year.

Large-scale trials on biomass by ESB and Bord na Móna

  • Bord na Móna, and more recently ESB, have been conducting large-scale trials with a variety of different types of biomass, including wood waste (primarily sawdust), forestry thinnings and energy crops, including willow and miscanthus. In 2009, circa 75,000 tonnes of different types of biomass was burned at Edenderry.

Miscanthus as a fuel

  • The use of miscanthus as a fuel to date in Ireland has been minimal, due to a number of issues, including limited experience internationally with its use as a boiler fuel particularly with peat. A Miscanthus Pilot Demonstration Programme was launched on 30 April 2010 to provide assistance for the deployment of renewable heating systems fuelled by miscanthus in commercial, industrial, services and public sectors and also community organisations and energy supply companies (ESCOs) in Ireland.

Anaerobic digestion

  • Anaerobic digestion involves the digestion of organic waste material to produce a gas and a digestate. The gas is then used in on site combined heat and power generation, but can also be cleaned, compressed and injected into the gas grid or compressed and used off site.
  • The anaerobic digestion process captures emissions that would occur as the material degrades, and uses the gas in electricity and heat generation. Methane, one of the primary gases released from degrading biomass, is 23 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Biomass CHP

  • Biomass CHP involves the combustion of biomass, which can include wood, straw, energy crops (like miscanthus or willow) or biodegradable waste to produce electricity and heat. The primary users of biomass CHP systems have traditionally been in the forestry products sector.

By Carmel Doyle

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic