Bioelectricity is the future for Bermuda
The national electricity sector represents the backbone for any modern society. When Bermuda's energy system emerges from its continuing transition, oil and diesel will have been replaced by more modern sources of energy.
Bermudians will have to live with these new sources for generations to come, for good and for bad. The universal requirements for a forward-looking energy system are affordability, reliability and sustainability. It is imperative for the welfare of present and future generations that any proposal is evaluated against these criteria.
Bioenergy is the world's largest source of renewable energy, constituting about 10 per cent of all energy consumed.
About half is modern, efficient use, eg, for transportation fuels, electricity and heating. The other half is traditional, inefficient use for cooking and heating.
Unlike wind and solar power, bioenergy has several similarities with fossil fuels: both are chemically bound energy that can be easily stored, transported, processed and used for electricity, heating and transportation.
This makes it easier to replace fossil fuels with bioenergy than with solar and wind. When processed into a commoditised form, eg, wood chips or pellets, bioenergy can be transported and traded between markets and countries as in between Europe and North America.
It essentially acts as a renewable type of fossil fuel, combining the flexibility and controllability of coal with the sustainability of wind or solar. As such, bioenergy is an ideal source of base-load electricity, even for countries with limited forest or agricultural resources, as is the case for Bermuda.
Adding shares of wind and solar power is easy, but with increasing shares come an increasing need to balance the variability, eg, cover demand when wind and solar are scarce or to handle surplus.
Rising shares of intermittent, renewable sources such as wind or solar are accompanied by rising total costs and technical difficulties with stabilising the grid.
Instead of relying on fossil fuels, biomass can play this balancing role and thereby take us closer to an energy system based on renewable energy only.
A modern biomass plant has full controllability and can easily and automatically handle the gap between the actual consumption and the generation from variable and non-controllable sources, such as wind and solar.
As noted in the Clean Power Plan, released on August 3 by the Obama Administration, there are different views on the sustainability and carbon neutrality of biomass.
Fundamentally, the photosynthesis is “the technology” enabling the existence of bioenergy. Obviously, a tree that is combusted releases carbon dioxide and, unless compensated by a balancing plant growth, the action would mean a net addition of carbon to the atmosphere.
Therefore, sustainable forestry and agricultural practices must go hand in hand with bioenergy use.
When done properly, high biomass use for energy and carbon neutrality can be truly mutually inclusive, as is the case for Sweden.
Since 1990, the use of biomass for energy has doubled and now covers one third of the total energy demand, which is a significant contribution to lowering the country's carbon footprint. The bioelectricity is delivered by 91 power plants with an average capacity of 30 MW.
Bermuda could benefit greatly from the development of a modular biomass power plant. Each module should comprise some 15 to 20 MW, with the total number of modules to be determined by the share of wind or solar in the system. The system could retain some oil/diesel capacity to cover peak-load consumption.
Our in-depth analyses of introducing bioelectricity on the Island to replace oil and diesel as base load:
• Show lower end-user prices compared with known alternatives (ie, “affordability”)
• Enable attractive long-term supply contracts for wood pellets from the US (ie, “reliability”)
• Reduce climate gas emissions significantly compared with any other available and adjustable source of energy (ie, “sustainability”)
• Secure competitive returns for investors (ie, “profitability”)
Furthermore, bioelectricity will be on the grid no more than 24 months after the last permit is in place and carries no risks out of the ordinary, neither technical nor commercial.
• Lars G. Josefsson is the chairman and chief executive officer of BioElectric Solutions AB, Sweden