生質能為全球再生能源最大來源，除提供穩定電力，同時又能夠減少碳排放與空氣汙染，美國身為最大的溫室氣體排放國之一，又是如何利用生質能？政府研究報告成果與再生能源配額制度（Renewable Portfolio Standards，簡稱RPS），加上豐富林業資源，皆對促進生質能發展產生決定性影響。
美國有不同贊助或資助生質能之相關研究，其研究從國家實驗室到大學甚至是政府補助計畫，計畫數量相當多。美國能源部主導此項研究，並發表了有關生質能概況與未來預測之報告，其中，在Billion Ton報告中便指出，美國擁有豐富的生物質料源，同時也是再生能源最大來源，其數量高達3.9 quadrillion BTUs，包括農業、林業與都市廢棄物，甚至是藻類之生質能，其中23%能源來自木質、21%來自（液態）生質燃料，而有5%來自廢棄物（2016 Billion-Ton Report）。這些來自政府報告及額外技術支援，可提升發展生質能之誘因與降低知識障礙，而在學術界制定的發展框架下，什麼樣的因素能夠提高應用程度？
(圖片來源：EIA (2016), “Southern states lead growth in biomass electricity generation” )
Biomass Use in the United States: Policy and Geographic Impacts
Globally biomass remains the largest single source of renewable energy and can reduce both carbon emissions and air pollution while providing stable power. How then has one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States, utilized biomass? A combination of indirect research and renewable portfolio standards combined with abundant forestry resources has encouraged widespread biomass development.
There were a variety of programs in the US that sponsored or enabled research into the combustion of dry biomass for energy. From national labs to universities to government grants, listing them all here would be extensive. Principally the Department of Energy led this research and published significant reports about the state and predicted future of biomass. One such report, the Billion Ton report clarified the widespread US of biomass in the US as the largest source of renewable energy at 3.9 quadrillion BTUs including the use of biomass from agriculture, forestry, municipal waste, and even algae. Within that number 23% of the energy comes from wood, biofuels cover 21% and waste 5% (2016 Billion-Ton Report). These reports from government, and additional technical support create soft incentives and lower the knowledge barriers for biomass adoption. While academia laid out the framework for development, what factors have led to this high level of usage?
(Source: EIA (2016), “Southern states lead growth in biomass electricity generation” )
Figure 1 Biomass Electricity Generation in the United States in 2005 and 2015
Renewable Portfolio Standards
First, look at the states with the highest biomass use. Southern states tend to use biomass for renewable energy because the geological conditions at the time made solar and wind less efficient while providing an over-abundance of plant materials. Within that context, different states utilized different incentives. Virginia has a statewide program to convert coal plants to biomass and encourage co-firing of both coal and biomass material. Dominion Power in Virginia operates three plants at 51 megawatts (MW) each as part of their voluntary reduction to generate 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Renewable portfolio standards, which require electricity providers to use certain percentages of renewable energy have benefited biomass adoption. Often, converting a coal plant into a co-firing or strictly biomass plant can be cheaper and faster than setting up other types of alternative energy.
Florida opened one of the largest new biomass plants in the United States, the 102.5 MW Gainesville Renewable Energy Center. The plant began generating power commercially in December 2013. Biomass at the time seemed alluring for both cutting GHGs and reducing fossil fuel use. The western part of the United States also had notable growth in biomass between 2010 and 2015, increasing electricity generation from biomass by 15% over that period. Most of the growth in the West comes from a few large plants in California that are helping the state meet its renewable electricity target.
Table 1 Biomass Consumption in the United State
(Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)
Looking across the United States you can see that the above states share common themes. These 11 states have the highest total use and proportion of biomass for energy. States such as Maine, Oregon, and Washington have strong commitments to renewables, lack sunlight, have largely exploited existing hydropower, and ample forestry resources. Whereas the southern states do not have the same commitment to renewable development they also lack the same hydropower resources, but do seem to embrace the 15% voluntary commitment by some energy providers for renewables. For all states, biomass represents a fast, cheap, and easy way to meet renewable targets.
Lessons for Asia
How can we apply this biomass policy experience to Asia, specifically Taiwan? First, it’s worth noting that the technology and operational models for biomass have been well established. However, the context differs greatly. The US has large forests and great swathes of agricultural areas, this creates abundant source material, this will unlikely be the case for Taiwan or other smaller Asian countries. However, we can see from experience that requirements for energy providers to develop renewable energy works. The states that use the most biomass tend to have fewer opportunities for other renewable energies.