Best Use of Biomass is for Heat

Letter written to the editor of Hearth and Home from Jon Strimling-President of

To the Editor:

As state and federal policymakers work to stimulate jobs in renewable energy and give the economy a much-needed boost, we would be wise to heed the lesson of Germany.  After substantial investment in wind and solar energy, Germany actually created more jobs in biomass than in either solar or wind.

According to a recent Heinrich Boll Foundation study, Germany created 75,000 jobs in solar photovoltaic, 84,000 jobs in wind and 96,000 jobs in biomass – with fewer public funds invested in biomass than in either solar or wind.  German policymakers focused on using biomass as efficiently as possible – for the greatest measures of carbon emissions reduction, for energy independence and economic growth.  By any of these metrics, using biomass as a heating fuel provides greater returns than electricity generation or transportation.

Installing a biomass heating system grows perennial jobs and infrastructure. Unlike solar or wind energy, the energy in biomass is harvested and transported by Americans year after year.  However, we must be careful to use biomass in the most efficient manner. Using biomass fuels, such as wood pellets, for heat is 85-92% efficient, while using it for electrical generation is only 25-35% efficient.

Despite that, the Markey-Waxman Renewable Electricity Standards Bill (RES), which Congress is currently debating, would provide incentives to use biomass for electricity rather than its ideal use: heat.  That can actually be counter-productive by depressing the adoption of more efficient biomass heating systems.

Fortunately, awareness of this issue is mounting.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) have each introduced new legislation which recognizes the benefits of using biomass to generate heat – and American jobs. Victories here will help biomass fuel manufacturers keep their feed stock pricing from increasing, strengthening the economic and environmental advantages of hearth appliances.

So jobs in our industry do grow on trees – but how we harvest those jobs is worthy of careful consideration.

Jon Strimling

Co-Chairman, Biomass Thermal Energy Council

President & CEO

84 Daniel Plummer Road, Goffstown NH




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One thought on “Best Use of Biomass is for Heat

  1. If all you wanted was the electricity, then your efficiency would be low, yes. But if you had a steam generator that recaptured all the "waste" heat for heating, your efficiency would go back up to about 90% altogether.
    The first 30% of the power would just be available for a more flexible use.
    I am not a big fan of subsidies, however. They are corrupted by power brokers more often than not.

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