Biomass, which is organic matter used as a fuel, especially in a power station for the generation of electricity, is being harnessed all around the world. It’s popularity is due to it being a renewable, carbon neutral and potentially cost effective power source. In 2016, there were approximately 3,600 active biomass power plants throughout the world, with an electricity generation capacity of approximately 51 GW, according to a Research and Markets’ ‘Biomass to Power’ report.
“Biomass is a renewable energy source, which the entire continent is looking for. It is also decentralised, which is trending both in Africa and globally, and it presents a potentially stabilising element for the grids on the renewable side,” says Dr. Jens Reich, Head of Sales of the Energy Technology Department of STEAG Energy Services GmbH. The power source also offers opportunities in reducing fuel to emissions and decentralising power plants.
Marko Nokkala, Technical Director at VTT-TECH Research CTR in Finland argues that “One major challenge appears to be a lack of understanding of the pros and cons of the different biomass technologies available. There is also a lack of capex – in South Africa, for example, we believe there are five or six firm biomass projects being investigated, but no credit lines for these projects.” Dr. Jens Reich, further points out that securing the supply chain is another challenge. “In my view, this challenge is more a matter of organisation than infrastructure.” Says Reich. “In countries where there is a great deal of biomass available, there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to bundle feedstock, with support from institutional development agencies and governments.”
To fully take hold of this power source, there would have to be a new approach. Nokkala believes that African planning horizons tend to be shorter than those elsewhere in the world. “Investors tend to expect a payback time of 2 – 3 years; but for biomass you have to build something small and highly efficient to get payback in anything under 5 years.”
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