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Report tracks US renewable energy investments, deployments

By Erin Voegele, Biomass Magazine
Published February 14, 2019

A new report published by BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy shows renewable energy is continuing to grow in the U.S., with 103 megawatts of capacity from biomass and waste-to-energy sources added last year.

The report, titled “2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook,” finds that the U.S. electricity sector continued to improve its carbon intensity last year due to increased renewable energy and natural gas power generation and investments in energy efficiency. This improvement in carbon intensity was realized even though a stronger economy and volatile weather boosted energy demand and contributed to a rise in economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the report, consumers experienced near record low energy costs on a household basis in 2018 and the number of energy jobs grew. Meanwhile, greater corporate purchasing of renewables, state policies and plunging prices for energy storage continued to reshape the nation’s energy portfolio.

“Continued expansion of sustainable energy is not just beneficial to the environment, it is an engine of American economic growth,” BCSE Rresident Lisa Jacobson explained. “In our seventh year of analysis, we found that energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy continue to be key economic drivers. At the same time, they contribute substantially to important efforts to reduce emissions and develop modern and resilient infrastructure.”

Regarding renewables, the report shows installations reached 19.5 gigawatts (GW) last year. Solar accounted for 11.6 GW, followed by wind at 7.5 GW. In 2018, the report shows hydro added 142 MW, biomass and waste-to-energy added 103 megawatts and geothermal added 53 MW. According to the report, policy support for these sectors has been shorter term and less consistent, in general, than for the wind and solar industries.

According to the report, the U.S. installed 51 MW of biomass and 32 MW of biogas projects in 2018. “Bioenergy build has tapered since 2013, when the production and investment tax credits, as well as the 1603 Treasury program, encouraged nearly 800 MW of new installations,” said the authors in the report.

The report indicates five new on-farm anaerobic digestion projects were added last year, with the total number of operational projects fairly flat since 2014 at approximately 250. The report also notes that 623 landfill gas energy projects were operational last year.

The report states BNEF tracked no major investments in new biomass plants last year. However, 12 new biogas plants representing approximately 22 MW of capacity did begin construction last year, representing $316 million in new investment.

The report does not include any growth in U.S. waste-to-energy development last year, but notes that the technology has seen significant growth in several other countries, including China, where capacity increased 300 percent to an estimated 4,100 MW in 2016, up from approximately 970 MW in 2009. In the U.K., supportive policies for waste-to-energy resulted in nine new facilities in 2016.

The report also addresses biomass feedstock prices, showing feedstock prices continued to dip in the South Atlantic and South Central regions of the U.S. last year. In the Pacific Northwest, prices plateaued at $17 per green ton. In New England and New York, the report shows prices increased by less than 5 percent to $25.5 per green ton and $20.8 per green ton, respectively.

In the report, BNEF said it did not track any major investment into large biomass, biogas or waste-to-energy projects last year.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the BCSE website