Costs of Biomass Power

The existing biopower sector, nearly 1,000 plants, is mainly comprised of direct-combustion plants, with an additional small amount of cofiring (six operating plants). Plant size averages 20 megawatts electric (MWe), and the biomass-to-electricity conversion efficiency is about 20%. Grid-connected electrical capacity has increased from less than 200 MWe in 1978 to over 6500 MWe in 2000. More than 75% of this power is generated in the forest products industry's CHP applications for process heat. Wood-fired systems account for close to 95% of this capacity. In addition, about 3,300 MWe of municipal solid waste and landfill gas generating capacity exists. Recent studies estimate that on a life-cycle basis, existing biopower plants represent an annual net carbon sink of 4 MMTCe. Prices generally range from 8¢/kWh to 12¢/kWh.

The charts below represent expected biomass power technology performance and cost.

This trend graph compares dollars per kilowatt installed for direct-fired, co-fired, and gasified biomass power systems, starting in 1995 with projections to 2020. Direct-fired biomass and gasified biomass exhibit similar trends, starting at about 2,000 and 2,200 dollars per kilowatt, respectively, in 1995, decreasing to about 1,500 and 1,700 dollars per kilowatt in 2005, and projected to hit about 1,100 and 1,300 dollars per kilowatt in 2020. Co-fired biomass is much cheaper and essentially constant at 250 dollars per kilowatt. This trend graph compares the efficiency of converting biomass energy into electricity for direct-fired, co-fired, and gasified biomass power systems, starting in 1995 with projections to 2020. Co-fired systems stay constant at 32 percent conversion efficiency, while direct-fired starts lower at 22 percent efficiency, plateaus at 28 percent efficiency from 2000 to 2010, then increases to 33 percent efficiency (slightly greater than co-fired systems) by 2020. Gasified systems started at a higher efficiency of 37 percent in 1995, increased gradually to 38 percent in 2005, and continues to increase gradually to 41 percent by 2020. This trend graph compares the cost of energy for direct-fired and gasified biomass systems, starting in 1995 with projections to 2020. Direct-fired biomass starts at about 72 cents per kilowatt-hour in 1995 and decreases constantly to 64 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2005 and 55 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2020. Gasified biomass starts higher at about 87 cents per kilowatt-hour in 1995 and decreases to 74 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2005 and to 59 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2020.