Bioenergy, renewable energy derived from biological sources, today accounts for as much as three-quarters of total final renewable energy use — making it by far the most widely used renewable energy source worldwide. IRENA estimates that to meet international climate change targets, the share of renewable energy will need to be doubled by 2030, and bioenergy can account for around half of that.

Falling costs and favourable policies have resulted in a dramatic rise in installed generation capacity worldwide, but the deployment of renewables is at times still stalled by projects that do not meet the specific standards required to obtain the necessary financial support. To support the successful development of woody biomass projects, IRENA has launched new technical guidelines on Woody Biomass, as part of its online Project Navigator platform. Just as the utility-scale solar PV guidelines, released last October, the newly released guidelines describe in nine stages what is needed to plan, establish, operate, and decommission a bankable woody biomass project.

“These guidelines can be used by project developers, public service units, academia, and anyone who wants to know how to develop a bankable woody biomass project,” said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre. The Technical Concept Guidelines for Woody Biomass joins IRENA’s collection of expanding resources for project development that already includes on-shore wind and utility-scale solar PV plants. “Through IRENA’s supportive guidance, project developers can use tools and templates in nine stages to navigate potential project pitfalls and deploy woody biomass projects successfully,” Gielen explains.

But what are these nine stages, and what do project developers need to consider in each phase to avoid stalling their projects?

Getting started

“Most renewable energy businesses are based on long-term agreements with utilities, or they sell into a large and established market,” says Roland Roesch, IRENA’s Senior Programme Officer for Renewable Energy Markets and Technology Dialogue. “Managing project risks is crucial as both the feedstock and the targeted market may change or even disappear during the lifetime of the project. One mitigation measure lies in identifying a range of feedstock sources, markets and technologies, rather than fixating on only one solution. This is the first step, the identification stage.”

An outline of the interactions between various project stakeholders.An outline of the interactions between various project stakeholders.

After the identification stage, screening can begin. Screening involves making comparisons between feedstock, business models, related policies and programmes, and project sites. IRENA’s guidelines help planners address typical ‘show-stoppers’ — issues that can cause a biofuel project to fail — and advises that projects should be thoroughly checked in their early development process to avoid wasting energy and money investments.

Assessing a number factors like feedstock type and availability, community concerns, market data, cost estimates, preliminary financial assessment, project options, and ranking of options, are crucial. “The cost of a plant increases with its size, capacity and projected output, and so there are economy-of-scale effects to take into account,” explains Roesch. “Essentially, the larger a plant gets, the lower the cost per tonne of plant capacity will be. It’s in the assessment phase that project planners can identify the ‘sweet spot’ between costs and plant capacity.”

The selection stage involves stakeholders and external decision makers who evaluate the bankability of project alternatives. These decision makers investigate the relative financial viability of alternatives, long-term feedstock availability, the availability of human resources, and any potential issues that could cause the project to fail.

After the selection phase, pre-development of the project can begin, during which technical and economic planning is done. Major engineering studies are undertaken, including the conceptual design of the processing plant, and these form the basis for the project’s permits, licences and authorisations.

An illustration of the flow of activities during the pre-development phase.An illustration of the flow of activities during the pre-development phase.

Building bankability

The final development phase of the project is the single most critical phase of the whole development process. Final decisions that affect the project’s future performance, are taken, and all activities previously performed under multiple tasks and in different project development steps are finalised to decide if and when the project is ‘bankable.’

“A project is generally considered bankable if a bank or lenders are willing to finance it,” says Simon Benmarraze, an analyst working on the Project Navigator. “Each lender and investor has criteria to judge whether a project is bankable. Specifically, bankability means that the results of the financial model are in line with the expectations of investors and lenders.”

A project’s construction phase stretches from equipment procurement, to construction, installation and plant commissioning. The key concerns for project developers during construction should be cost, quality, and planning control measures.

Once construction is complete, the hopefully long period of operations should be begin. The focus of this phase should be to achieve and consistently maintain projected production levels and product quality, with the careful monitoring of feedstock quality, and best storage and processing practices.

The key stakeholders that take part in a medium- to large-scale biomass fuel-production plant.The key stakeholders that take part in a medium- to large-scale biomass fuel-production plant.

“Constant maintenance, fine-tuning, and adjustment are necessary to maintain smooth operations and uniform product parameters,” explains Benmarraze. “Some of these skills cannot be prescribed but depend on the equipment used, and will become part of the in-house knowledge of the biofuel producer.”

At the end of a project’s lifecycle, decommissioning begins. During this phase a biofuel plant may either be re-tooled so that it can continue to operate, or it can be decommissioned and its site rehabilitated.

In anticipation to the launch of the new guidelines, IRENA held an hour-long webinar covering the development of a bankable woody biomass project, which can be viewed in its entirety on IRENA’s YouTube channel or below. To learn more about developing a bankable renewable energy project, visit the IRENA Project Navigator website and try out its modules.
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In recent decades, wind turbines have become a familiar sight in many countries. Onshore wind projects around the world now consistently deliver electricity for USD 0.04 per kilowatt‑hour (kWh), with some projects achieving as low as USD 0.03/kWh. Yet up-to-date cost data and reliable projections of future costs remain limited.

The “learning curve” — a concept borrowed from manufacturing — assesses the rate at which production costs fall as deployment grows due to manufacturing and technology improvements. As an analytical tool, the curve captures past evolution and is a useful tool for assessing potential future cost trends for a given technology. In short, it provides a useful estimate of how future costs will fall as deployment (measured in some kind of physical units) grows.

Learning curves work by identifying the average percentage reduction in costs for each cumulative doubling of deployment. For the energy sector, learning curves have become an essential input to models that estimate the potential contributions of different technologies in the future energy system.

The existing literature for onshore wind, however, is out-of-date, largely failing to cover the period since 2009, when wind turbine prices have declined by 30-40%. Without comprehensive data for the entire period of onshore wind deployment, the learning curve literature may not be yielding realistic model results, potentially misleading policy makers. This is a very real risk, as almost 70% of installed capacity at the end of 2014 originated after 2007, while learning-rate estimates mostly predate 2010 and even include pre-2007 data.

To address this uncertainty, IRENA has updated the onshore wind learning curve, taking into account the latest data. Improved learning curves should help the growth of wind projects worldwide.

IRENA’s onshore wind learning curves

IRENA compiled a database that has allowed updated calculations of the learning rates of onshore wind for both investment costs and levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), filling the knowledge gap and eliminating the uncertainty that has existed around the validity of previous learning rate analysis for onshore wind.

The project examined 12 countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States) over the period 1983‑2014. These 12, accounting for over 87% of global installed capacity for onshore wind power at the end of 2014, represent a robust view of industry learning. The dataset covers more than 3 200 individual wind farms, representing 47% of global cumulative installed capacity at the end of 2014. To ensure a complete view on costs, this was complemented when necessary with additional data from reliable secondary sources for each country in each year.

The preliminary results show learning rates of 7% for investment costs (Figure 1) and 12% for LCOE (Figure 2) between 1983 and 2014, highlighting significant improvements in wind technology over the period. Final updated results are expected to be published in 2017.Learning rates for investment costs. Learning rate 7%

Learning rates for levelised cost of electricity. Learning rate of 12%Still, uncertainties remain, particularly in relation to the LCOE learning curve. Notably, the data for operation and maintenance costs over the whole period are not as robust as installed cost data, while data on actual project financing costs are almost completely absent. Yet financing costs for onshore wind have undoubtedly decreased. The 12% learning rate must therefore be considered a lower-floor finding, with the true learning rate likely to be somewhat higher.

To learn more, check out IRENA’s analysis of prospects for key technologies future in The Power to Change: Solar and Wind Cost Reduction Potential to 2025.

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At IRENA’s seventh Assembly, held in Abu Dhabi in January 2017, renewable energy projects from the Marshall Islands, Niger, Seychelles and the Solomon Islands were selected to receive a total of USD 44.5 million in funding through the IRENA/ADFD Project Facility. The Facility is a unique partnership between the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), set up to identify and partially finance promising renewable energy projects in developing countries.

At the Assembly, energy ministers from the four selected countries explained how this partnership will bring about a positive change in their respective countries. 

Solar PV micro-grids in Marshall Islands

As one of the countries with some of the highest energy costs in the world, the Marshall Islands suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment. To address these challenges, the country proposed a project to install solar PV micro-grids with advanced lithium-ion energy storage systems on four of its most populated islands. This transformative project is expected to provide affordable renewable energy to over 16,000 people.

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Rural electrification in Niger

Despite significant renewable energy resources, less than 1% of the rural population in Niger has access to electricity. This project proposes to install solar PV micro-grids and individual solar home kits in 100 isolated villages. The initiative is expected to provide electricity to over 21,000 households, 100 schools and over 100 medical centres.

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Solar PV farm in Seychelles

Currently, the Seychelles is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs. This project aims to build the first ever solar PV farm in the country, which is expected to make energy more affordable and accessible. The project will reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and create approximately 300 jobs.

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Hydropower plant in Solomon Islands

Power generation in the Solomon Islands relies on imported diesel fuel resulting in high retail costs of electricity. This project involves the construction of a hydropower plant which will provide electricity into the existing grid system of Honiara, helping 5,000 people in local communities to gain access to energy.

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Since 2013, the IRENA/ADFD Project Facility has allocated USD 189 million to 19 projects, attracting over USD 387 million in co-financing for a total of USD 576 million in new investment inflow. Selected projects over the first four cycles are expected to bring more than 100 MW of renewable energy capacity online, offering a sustainable and affordable solution for over a million people with limited or no access to electricity.

LAS VEGAS, Nev., September 7, 2016 – Schneider Electric, the global specialist in energy management and automation, will showcase recently unveiled offerings for utility-scale power generation, cementing the company’s global leadership in solutions for the solar and energy storage power conversion chain.

In addition to a comprehensive lineup of utility-scale, commercial and residential offerings for all scales and scopes of renewable generation, Schneider Electric will highlight the recently launched Conext SmartGen, an intelligent, cloud-connected 1500-volt utility-scale power conversion system, as well as a suite of supporting software solutions called the Power EcoSystem™.

“As renewables continue to evolve and become a more attractive investment, companies are turning to Schneider Electric for assistance navigating the space,” said Laurent Bataille, Executive Vice President, EcoBuildings and Solar Division, Schneider Electric. “With deep sector expertise, global reach and advanced technology, Schneider Electric supports companies by offering a vast suite of solar solutions that deliver innovation at every level to secure the return on investment of long-term investors.”

Conext SmartGen™ inverter is the center of the Power EcoSystem™, a suite of solutions that includes Conext™ Viewer, the Conext™ Power Cloud, Conext™ Advisor 2, and the Power Plant Controller. Leveraging the power of the Internet of Things, these solutions empower remote operators, service staff and financial analysts with centralized control, monitoring, data analytics and predictive maintenance for optimal performance and maximum ROI.

Key features and functions of the Conext SmartGen™ and other Power EcoSystem™ solutions to be shown on site include:

  • Conext SmartGen inverter records and stores its own operation and service history, has self-diagnostic capabilities and can send predictive maintenance warnings and reports through the cloud. Housed in a water- and dust-sealed corrosion-proof enclosure, it is designed to deliver up to 2MVA of power for 30 years. Its wide operation range, combined with best-in-class efficiency and unprecedented service life maximize its energy generation lifetime.
  • Conext™ Advisor 2 accesses solar power plant performance data, delivers detailed KPIs, provides high-level analysis, and enables faster, better-informed decision making by utilizing Schneider Electric EcoStruxure architecture, powered by Microsoft Azure using the Azure IoT Suite.

Also on display is the Conext™ CL-60 String Inverter, a 60 kW inverter with a high power density ideal for the utility-scale and large commercial solar markets. The Conext CL-60 String Inverter is durable, simple to install and maintain with an industry-leading maximum efficiency of 98.9%.

“Schneider Electric offers companies a powerful combination of technology and global capabilities that keep their assets productive over a longer operational life,” said Arnaud Cantin, Vice President, Solar and Energy Storage Line of Business, Schneider Electric. “Our suite of solar solutions reflects Schneider Electric’s commitment to driving change in the evolving solar industry and equipping companies with the efficiency, cloud connectivity and collaboration tools they need to succeed.”

About Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric is the global specialist in energy management and automation. With revenues of ~€27 billion in FY2015, our 160,000+ employees serve customers in over 100 countries, helping them to manage their energy and process in ways that are safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable. From the simplest of switches to complex operational systems, our technology, software and services improve the way our customers manage and automate their operations. Our connected technologies reshape industries, transform cities and enrich lives. At Schneider Electric, we call this Life Is On.

Discover Life is On

Related resources:

  • For additional information on-site, please visit the Schneider Electric booth, located in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Exhibit Hall, Booth #2533.
  • To learn more about Schneider Electric solar products and solutions, please visit

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Schneider Electric
Mark Elliott
Tel: 978-975-9025
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Brenna McCarthy
Tel: 212-331-8440
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