Biomass ammassed

FOREST RESOURCES AND WOOD-BASED BIOMASS ENERGY AS RURAL DEVELOPMENT ASSETS Edited by William R Bentley & Marcia M Gowen Winrock International USA, Oxford & IBH

 
By P P S Gusain
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The most promising solution to the deepening power crisis in developing countries may be found in renewable energy systems, particularly from biomass resources (primarily wood and biomass residues from forestry, forest products industries, agriculture and agro-industries). However, these opportunities are only realisable in the context of sustainable resource production and proper waste management and their impact on the environment and the lives of the rural poor.

This book, divided into five parts, brings together the papers presented, the various issues raised and the ideas generated during a February 1992 workshop on Forest Resources and Wood-based Biomass Energy as Rural Development Assets sponsored by Winrock International, Yale University and the US Agency for International Development.

The first paper focuses on a new approach to electricity generation and distribution. It foresees a new pattern of utility growth--the development utility--which will depend on a network of distributed mini-grids powered from a wide variety of low-cost renewable options linked to the central grid.

The second part of the book covers alternative experiences with wood-based biomass energy. This section presents case studies from India, Honduras, Indonesia and the US on a broad spectrum of modern wood-energy use and opportunities.

It then deals with the intricacies involved in creating truly sustainable tropical forest management schemes. Experiences gained in commercial, rural and traditional forestry management in New Zealand, Philippines, Brazil and Indonesia are highlighted. Key research needs and recommendations for action are stated.

The papers identify distorted forestry and energy policies which prevent wood-energy from filling its proper niche. In most developing countries, rural electricity is substantially subsidised, which makes wood-based energy appear costlier than it actually is. Legislation is needed to encourage cogeneration of electricity and purchase of excess power at reasonable prices by the local utility company. In countries like India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where discontinuous grids make the cost of energy high in rural areas, wood-based energy may fill critical niches in far-off places. In places like Nigeria, Swaziland and Ecuador, weak rural infrastructure could be strengthened by wood-based energy to attract new, small scale industries.

The papers are written by authorities with diverse backgrounds including engineers, foresters, ecologists and professionals working for private industries, public agencies, non-profit organisations and universities. Each brings his own experiences, convictions and sometimes biases into play. But collectively, the papers present a very integrated and well-balanced perspective on the issue of the use of forest wood resources as an energy source and its implications for rural development.

The book as a whole, highlights the point that the present barriers to the adoption of wood-based energy systems are typically not technical, but economical, ecological and political.

Those looking for specific solutions to their problems in the book will be sadly disappointed. But it presents a wealth of information and nuggets of wisdom interspersed with well placed tables, charts, and line diagrams (42 tables and 75 charts and figures) which is helpful for those who are interested in issues of rural energy and rural development. It also offers an analytical base and framework for synthesis which can be further refined and improved upon. All in all, a highly recommendable book.

Writer P P S Gusain, Secretary, Consortium on Rural Technology, New Delhi

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