Can commodity biogas earn intermittent wind and solar power the title of a truly renewable AND baseload power source? That’s the contention that green technology analyst Dallas Kachan puts forward in a report released this morning. Kachan defines “bio natural gas” — also known as renewable natural gas and biomethane — as the gas that comes from cleaning up the methane captured from rotting organic material in landfills, dairy farms, food processing plants and other sources and injecting it into natural gas pipelines. That gas can then be contracted for use in gas-fired turbines, fuel cells or other generation sources that can use it to back up the intermittent power that comes from wind turbines and solar power plants. Wind farms already need backup power to cover dips in the wind, and those are usually natural gas-fired turbines. Burning biogas still creates CO2 emissions, but does prevent even more greenhouse gas-intensive methane from entering the atmosphere. Fuel cells that turn natural gas into power with even fewer emissions can get an even bigger carbon reduction. In face, fuel cell company Bloom Energy has been buying so-called “directed biogas” from sources far from its installations in California to be able to claim the state’s lucrative Self-Generation Incentive Program credit of up to $4,500 per kilowatt for fuel cells using biogas, compared to $2,500 per-kilowatt for those using natural gas. The big question, of course, is how big the bio natural gas business can grow to support the needs of all the would-be renewable, carbon-neutral power sources that want to use it to become always-on resources as well.
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