Why the UK needs to invest in decentralised energy at the point of use on industrial sites

Written by: Richard Gueterbock | Published:

While it is helpful that DECC has decided to continue to support renewable energy through the feed-in tariff (FIT) and renewable heat incentive (RHI) incentive mechanisms, there is still a considerable lack of clarity over what is planned for technologies like anaerobic digestion (AD) says Richard Gueterbock, marketing director for UK on-site anaerobic digestion specialist, Clearfleau.

The recent reintroduction of pre-accreditation is only of use if it allows investors to know what incentive rates will be after the plant is built. For AD this can be over 12 months after funding is secured.

There is significant potential for on-site anaerobic digestion (AD), across the food and beverage sectors. But, for this market to take off, policymakers in DECC must recognise the benefits of supporting the generation of decentralised renewable energy. The government and British business should be working together to help decarbonise industrial sites, following the lead of companies like Nestle, Diageo and First Milk that have committed to on-site renewables.

Benefits for smaller food operations?

While larger businesses interested in on site AD may be able to afford to invest in renewables this is not always the case for smaller SME food and farming businesses that are being pressed to cut carbon emissions. And as such companies proliferate in the agri-food industry, a large part of the sector will not benefit from turning production residues into green energy. This is disappointing, especially in the light of the UK’s commitment to its climate change obligations.

Food and beverage manufacturers need to have a stable incentive regime to help them invest and they need an incentive rate that is commensurate with the risk. Hence the British AD sector is asking for smaller on-site AD plants that convert residues into energy, but do not produce more than 100kW hours of electricity to receive better government support. This could bring hundreds of small on-site AD plants to be built each year for the next five years to supply energy (heat and power) on farms, on factory sites and in rural communities. As well as having a significant impact on our fossil fuel energy use and our greenhouse gas emissions.

Can do more

On-site energy from AD provides baseload power and peak lopping capabilities. Following the Paris Climate Change Agreement, it is clear that the UK food sector and other businesses can do more to decarbonise production processes by making better use of their processing residues. The UK needs to invest in decentralised energy, at the point of use, on industrial sites.

Also, it is of some concern that while the British renewable energy sector is fighting for modest support from the taxpayer, at the same time significant levels of taxpayers’ funds have been allocated to the development of nuclear power by companies from France and China. The cost of this nuclear energy (in financial and lifecycle terms) will be higher than the most efficient renewables technologies that can deliver baseload power, such as on-site AD.

We need reassurance from DECC ministers that they will provide comparable support to the development of smaller, decentralised energy production systems. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to renewables will not maximise opportunities and British energy policy should take account of the benefits of smaller decentralised systems and do more to promote on-site renewables.

- For more details on on-site anaerobic digestion company Clearfleau, visit www.clearfleau.com

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