Ontario Green Energy Act Fires Up Biomass Development — But Lacks Heat

Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, released by the Provincial Government last month, has all the right tools to make renewable energy a much greater contributor to the province’s energy mix, but there’s one thing missing: heat.

The best use of biomass is for heating, not electricity production. To produce electricity using biomass and then using the electricity to produce heat or hot water is not an efficient process. Instead, it’s better to produce the heat and hot water directly using biomass.

Only reserving incentives for electricity, not heat, ignores the huge opportunity to replace fossil fuels that are currently used for producing heat and hot water. And focusing on electricity artificially promotes biomass cogeneration plants to be less efficient because plants are the most efficient when they are able to use all of the heat produced, not just the electricity generated.

For the wind power and photovoltaic sectors, electricity production is the only focus. But for the bioenergy sector, heat production is just as crucial, if not more important, than electricity generation.

Denmark’s Heat Supply Act is a great example of how countries or provinces can recognize and use biomass heat. The Act’s objective is clear, “To promote the most socio-economic and environmentally friendly utilization of energy for heating buildings, supplying them with hot water and reducing the dependency of the energy system on oil.”

Here are some of the provisions of the Danish Act that need to be incorporated into Ontario’s Green Energy Act:

  • Make it mandatory for heat supply planning at the provincial and municipal levels;

  • Make it mandatory that district heating be fully considered in the planning process;

  • Make specific provisions for heat from bioenergy;

  • Set levels for renewable heat use by all new buildings and all new housing sub-divisions;

  • Create incentives for the use of heat from renewable sources at the levels of both capital and operating costs and

  • Ensure that all relevant Provincial Ministries are active in implementing policies for heat from renewable sources, not just a single Ministry that regulates electricity generation

As it is currently drafted the definition of “Appliances,” in the Ontario Green Energy Act only refers to electricity-using appliances. The definition needs to be extended to include the most energy efficient heating appliances such as residential furnaces and industrial/commercial boilers that can use either pellets or chips for single site application or for district heating systems.

In business cases that have come forward to date, a 30 percent capital subsidy rate for approved appliances would be the correct level of incentive and should be put in place for a minimum of five years.

One of the best applications of biomass for heat production is at the residential level using pellet systems. In North America, we practically invented pellet stoves and they have come a long way in efficiency. But it has taken the Europeans to move the concept to the next logical step — central heating pellet furnaces that are fully automated, usually with over 90 percent combustion efficiency. Often such furnaces are combined with solar water heaters.

It seems odd that at a time when we are all trying to move green energy forward there is more discussion about the government providing subsidies to potential new car buyers “to help the industry get back on its feet” than there is about providing incentives to highly-efficient appliances that will use renewable energy for heat and hot water and then generate a new industry that is more likely to create new, sustainable employment and wealth in the long term.

Christopher Rees is the President of the Canadian Ecology Centre and Board Member, responsible for Ontario, of the Canadian Bioenergy Association.  Chris is the Managing Partner of Suthey Holler Associates, and is a bioenergy advisor for the Austrian Trade Commission in Canada. He recently lead Austrian and Finnish missions to Northern Ontario on renewable energy opportunities and is involved in a number of private sector and government bioenergy initiatives in Canada.

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