The cheapest option for generating electricity from biomass is co-firing. Retrofitting a co-firing option to an existing coal-fired power plant costs between $100/kW and $700/kW of biomass generating capacity, with the average price around $200/kW.5
A new direct-fired biomass power plant costs around $2000/kW as a result of the low efficiency of existing technology. This could be reduced to around $1300/kW by the end of the decade as new, higher-efficiency plants are introduced. First generation biomass gasification power plants will probably cost around $2000/kW, dropping to $1400/kW by 2010. For comparison, a typical coal-gasification-based plant entering service in 2006 would cost around $1300/kW.
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The solar Stirling engine is progressively becoming a viable alternative to solar panels for its higher efficiency. Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun. This is an easy-to-understand explanation of how Stirling engines work, the different types, and why they are more efficient than steam engines.