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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Remote community electrification using woody biomass Wilson, Sonja


In British Columbia (BC) there are approximately 60 communities not connected to the regional electricity grid, these communities are classified as “remote”. The prevailing technology for generating electricity in these remote communities is the diesel generator. Diesel generators are polluting, noisy, costly and unsustainable; yet communities rely on them for lack of a suitable alternative. However, many remote communities in BC are surrounded by forests, and may have access to a wood supply sufficient to meet community power requirements. In addition to displacing diesel for electricity generation, biomass power plants may also displace fuels for space and hot water heating. Co-generation with woody biomass in grid-connected applications at large-scale is well established. However, remote community electrification with woody biomass is an emerging field requiring a different approach to risk/benefit analysis, technology selection, sizing and demand management. This thesis examines the benefits, risks, and techno-economic feasibility of generating electricity from woody biomass in the context of off-grid communities in BC. Technology options were reviewed for their suitability to remote community applications. The finding of the review is that a Thermal Oil boiler coupled with an Organic Rankine Cycle turbine is the best choice for remote community power plants. Specifications and pricing for these technologies were applied in the techno-economic assessment and optimization study for Tsay Keh Village in British Columbia. The results of the analysis suggest that a bioenergy plant in Tsay Keh Village would significantly reduce air pollution, soil contamination due to spills, and noise, while also reducing the 25-year net present value (NPV) of energy expenditures. Provided that the many forms of risk are recognized and managed effectively, a Band-owned bioenergy power plant at Tsay Keh Village could result in many benefits to the community; including improved respiratory health, employment, protection from escalating fossil fuel costs, revenue and energy self sufficiency. However, in light of recent BCHydro Zone II electricity price increases, the stepped rate price structure and a trend of falling populations in remote communities, the economic risk of a community owned bioenergy plant in Tsay Keh Village appears to outweigh the potential benefits.

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