Ferrum College and English Biomass Partners have been working together for nearly five years to design, build, and operate a biomass plant that will provide almost all of the thermal energy and a portion of electricity requirements for the campus. The biomass plant began full operation in 2014. This is the story of what they have learned.

Introducing new technologies into existing systems to achieve strategic sustainability goals often create unexpected challenges that threaten hoped for benefits and leave participants wondering what went wrong. Yet even projects that present these challenges are also great sources of encouragement and learning. Many projects begin with a focus on the promise of a particular technology, (in this case using biomass for fuel), and while the prospects can be exciting, it can obscure the hard work of preparing the existing system for change. Moreover, the “systems” that frequently present the most difficulty are the human systems and behaviors that influence implementation. Because these are not well-understood or documented they are “uncovered” during implementation. The purpose of this article is to identify critical success factors and provide insight about processes that enhance the likelihood of success.

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Author notes

1. Managing Partner of Ascent Energy Partners (AEP, http://www.ascentenergypartners.com). AEP is an energy efficiency consulting firm dedicated to designing solutions for businesses that make efficient use of energy resources while simultaneously reducing the impact on people and the environment. AEP was engaged by Ferrum College and English Biomass Partners to assist with the implementation of the Biomass Energy Plant project.