Latest column: burning wood

What is the world’s biggest provider of renewable energy? Most people will probably think it is hydro-electricity, or perhaps wind energy. The more informed might think of all that bio-energy in Africa and parts of Asia.

But most will be surprised that bio-energy is in fact the biggest source of renewable energy in both the EU and the US. Not only this but the historical trend has been reversed. For most of the twentieth century bio-energy declined decade to decade. Now it is having some kind of come back.

I look into this stuff in my latest column. Read it here.

R users may be interested in the packages I used for the plots. The graphs were produced using ggplot2 with the ggthemes packages to give the Economist style look to the graphs. The map produced using ggmaps, which lets you plot on to google maps using R.

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3 thoughts on “Latest column: burning wood”

  1. Robert-
    I just started receiving your posts. Wonderful timing for your “burning wood” post arrive in my inbox!

    I happen to live in a forested area in the Sierra foothills. My local ecology is at a transition elevation , 2400 ft., leading to a mix of oak and conifers. I have been keeping track of how a regional municipal electrical utility district (SMUD) has been managing their assets in and around the American River(s). I don’t have a few specifics to determine how sustainable SMUD’s efforts were (as far as netting out carbon/dioxide) in there “Recent forest-thinning efforts reduce Iowa Hill fire hazard” project https://www.smud.org/en/about-smud/iowa-hill/documents/confluence-newsletter/2014-Spring-Confluence-Newsletter.pdf, but my semi educated SWAG tells me they have done about as good a job as possible given their primary objective(s).

    If this project occurred before the housing bubble decimated the local economy SMUD would have been able to reduce some of their costs, primarily the costs to transport the different portions of the biomass to various locations for further processing, as they would have been able to mill, process, the timber closer to where the biomass was harvested.

    I expect to see more biomass being used in the foothills to heat in the future. Geography got in the way of developers suburbanizing most of the foothills. This means that the existing housing stock (built from the mid 1800’s though till more recent decades) was never upgraded to natural gas for heating as it wasn’t/isn’t available. Depending on the location in the foothills the mix of fuels used for heating varies between propane (which is currently at about $3.00/gallon delivered), biomass (oak and pine available locally for give or take $200 cord), or electrical energy (with the price for a kWh a bit hard to pin down given our rather steep Tiered rate structure from PG&E; Average wise a kWh is currently $.20, with the top Tiers running closer to $.36 kWh, and he bottom Tier running at $.136 kWh). Propane and transportation fuels will be falling under CAP and Trade program shortly in CA. The local propane companies who deliver in the foothills will be passing on their increased costs to deliver the propane as well as their increased propane costs.

    I wish I had found your site earlier in my search for cost effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of those of us who happen to live in the foothills. We do have great sun exposure most of the year which my plant life and little PV system can attest too. Like the folks in Germany we run into the occasional zero output days from our PV systems when the snow load on our panels gets above a couple of inches- thank goodness for the grid!

  2. I think there needs to be more awareness of alternative energy efficient ways we can use to heat our homes and workplaces. It’s crystal clear with the right infrastructure electricity is the way things are pointing to. Has anyone looked closely at the new generation of electric radiators?

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