Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cow Power: Policy Incentives, Barriers and Recommendations for Biogas Production

For my final paper I wrote about the policy issues that promote and limit the production of biogas in the United States. This research is an extension of my current research on the energy potential and air quality benefits of converting animal waste to biogas. When talking to people about my research I often get asked why biogas production isn't more common if it has so many benefits. This report seeks to answer that question.

The main barriers to widespread biogas production is the cost of the equipment, lack of knowledge about the technology, and lack of infrastructure for the distribution of biogas. Currently in the United States there are no federal financial incentives exclusively for the production of biogas. Loans and grants are available through programs promoting renewable energy only. I found few such programs in my research. The situation is nearly the same at the state level.

A big incentive for biogas production in some states is interconnection legislation and net metering laws. Electrical utilities, in some instances, have made it difficult for small generators to sell their electricity to the grid. Some utilities require that small generators buy liability insurance before they can connect to the grid and by offering them wholesale prices for their electricity. Some states have passed legislation that allow electricity producers up to a certain capacity connect to the grid without purchasing liability insurance. In addition, laws have been passed in some states that allow the generator to be credited, at the retail price, for the excess electricity they produce. This makes biogas production and use (to generate electricity) much more attractive.

Sweden has succeeded in producing 0.3% of their annual energy use from biogas (Biogas in the US only accounts for 0.001% of total energy consumption in a year). In my paper I also studied policies in Sweden that have led to the widespread production and use of biogas. From this analysis I determined that the best way increase biogas production in the US is through policies that promote both biogas production and use. Such policies should provide funding for biogas enterprises, create state level educational agencies focused on biogas production, create environmental standards and renewable energy quotas, and create the infrastructure for biogas use.

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