Time for Amber Rudd to support decentralised renewable energy
Richard Gueterbock, Director of Clearfleau discusses the UK Government's energy policy priorities.
Despite the welcome conformation that Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) will continue for a further four years, the Government needs to sort its energy policy priorities. It is backing expensive gas and nuclear projects while undervaluing potentially cheaper decentralised energy supplies, based on innovative renewables solutions and novel smaller scale power generation technologies. Yet decentralised energy generation on factory sites is key to the emerging circular economy (and the development of sustainable food and industrial production).
On-site anaerobic digestion has multiple benefits. It converts bio-degradable industrial residues into biogas to supply energy back to the production processes. It helps with recycling grey water for industrial sites, particularly when 95% of the COD load is removed in the anaerobic plant, prior to any further treatment process. It reduces disposal costs for production residues. It also helps reduce carbon emissions and contributes to more sustainable manufacturing.
The drive for greater sustainability should include water re-use on industrial sites. On-site digestion makes industrial water recycling more viable and easier to deploy clean-up solutions. By removing over 95% of COD load, digestion reduces the cost of final treatment. If Diageo can discharge cleansed water (following on-site digestion) into local water courses in the Scottish Highlands, then it will be possible to use similar processes to recycle water used on industrial sites.
However, development of this sector is being constrained by policy failings in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) headed by Secretary of State, Amber Rudd. By removing Feed in Tariff (FIT) incentives DECC is undermining efforts of British industry to become more sustainable.
Despite this, leading companies like Nestle and Diageo are sharing their success within their industry sectors having used an innovative (British) on-site digestion technology to convert process residues into on-site heat and power, supplying low carbon energy to their production processes. Other early adopters are investing in on-site solutions like solar and biomass to reduce consumption of fossil fuel.
More food, drink, biofuel and pharmaceutical manufacturers are exploring how they can add value to process residues. On-site energy generation will help DECC reach renewables and carbon reduction targets. Yet ill-thought-out Ministerial intervention is removing access to renewable incentives too early. Limiting support for small scale renewables is affecting the ability of British manufactures to reduce their carbon emissions.
The decision to provide £ billions in subsidies to the French and Chinese for nuclear power contrasts starkly with DECC’s reluctance to support British renewable energy companies. Removal of incentives is leading to loss of engineering jobs, at a time when boosting manufacturing output and economic growth is a key priority. More jobs have been lost in renewables in the past few months than in our ailing steel sector!
Why is the smaller scale decentralised energy sector being ignored by Amber Rudd and her DECC colleagues? They should be supporting investment in decentralised energy production, particularly in the food sector (based on process residues) and in rural areas on farms and in rural communities.
There will always be a requirement for large centralised power generation - whether by clean coal, gas or even nuclear but also offshore wind and tidal energy, but these large scale solutions must be matched by investment in smaller scale renewables. They supply energy at the point of use, based on locally available feedstocks (food processing and farm residues or community food waste).
The commercial sector needs a stable and supportive renewables policy framework to encourage investment. Despite Amber Rudd’s positive response when she witnessed AD technology in action at Nestlé’s Fawdon factory in March 2015, where it is saving them 10% of their energy requirements, DECC has failed to engage with British technology suppliers, who are investing to create growth and jobs. There is also scope to develop export markets for innovative British technology and engineering.
Thousands of food factories, farms and rural communities could be using sustainable fuels like waste wood or food and other residues to power biomass and on-site AD systems if Government did more to stimulate this market. DECC (and DEFRA) should facilitate reductions in the carbon footprint of UK industry and our food supply chain. Ministers could support British innovation alongside suppliers of gas and nuclear power stations by granting British renewables companies a level playing field.
I firmly believe that modest support from taxpayers and policy makers for on-site renewables will help British renewables suppliers to decarbonise UK manufacturing. With a global effort to address climate change following the Paris summit, there will be increasing opportunities to export clever, proven UK technology. With a fraction of the sums being spent by the taxpayer on expensive nuclear projects, Ministers can support British engineering and design, protect British jobs and boost the emerging UK renewables sector (even stimulating exports), benefiting taxpayers and consumers.
Support for British engineering innovation will help stimulate sustainable production and the circular economy in the UK. Despite this, Amber Rudd appears set on cutting support for anaerobic digestion and other smaller scale renewable technologies. If Government wants our manufacturers to become more sustainable, Ministers and their officials must recognise the role of British technology solutions.
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