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Government is holding back potential of AD

2000 handbook ad biogas bubbles in digester

Government support has helped to build an anaerobic digestion (AD) industry that today includes more than 100 waste plants currently providing 140MWe of baseload capacity.

There is still plenty of scope for growth, however, as valuable inedible food waste continues to be lost to expensive landfill and incineration. The Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA) is on the WRAP-led steering group to develop a new Food Waste Recycling Action Plan, aimed at co-ordinating action between the waste industry, trade bodies and local authorities.

This group represents a major opportunity to build a partnership with the aim of unlocking tonnes of additional food waste for AD.

Work is also underway to improve waste collection systems, which we are confident that Defra will support if it has industry consensus and is cost-effective. ADBA has engaged with resources minister Rory Stewart on this issue, and promoted the value of food waste recycling schemes.

As part of the effort to demonstrate the fantastic value of AD’s spectrum of benefits, we are also currently providing input for the Scottish Government’s efforts to improve the value of digestate as a nutrient-rich biofertiliser and to improve the efficiency of the heat generated from biogas. Thanks to the growing biomethane-to-grid market, AD now accounts for the equivalent of almost half of the UK’s renewable heat capacity.

Continuing the growth in AD will depend on the attitude that the Government takes to food waste. With viewpoints from Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Assembly, councils, WRAP and waste management representatives, the seventh ADBA National Conference held on 3 December 2015 in Westminster will assess the prospects for streamlined waste collection policy and the fallout from the previous day’s circular economy package announcement by the European Commission. The conference will also discuss the impact of energy policy on AD’s future. The Government’s overzealous efforts to drive greater cost-efficiency for bill payers is threatening the survival of the very technologies that will drive up recycling standards and reduce consumer bills in the long-term as fossil fuel plants come offline.

What is immediately clear is that the AD industry’s ability to generate extra baseload energy will be severely hindered by the low deployment levels set out in the Feedin Tariff (FiT) consultation by the Department of Energy & Climate Change. The proposed deployment cap represents just 72.7MW over three-and-a-quarter years – but to put this in context, the AD industry deployed 47.9MW under the FiT scheme in 2014 alone.

The crippling threat, however, has been to investor confidence following the Government’s decision to remove pre-accreditation from the FiT scheme. Given the length of time it takes to develop AD plants, investors are not offered any guarantee on what, if any, returns they would receive on completion. This measure has already compromised around £164m in overseas investment and future industry growth has ground to a halt.

Aside from improving energy security, we need to hammer home how the storable nature of biogas means that AD can help to meet peak demand for gas or electricity and evade the impending ‘capacity crunch’. AD can deliver the same quantity of baseload energy as Hinkley Point C and at less cost and much less risk.

Of course AD offers much more value than baseload energy alone. We continue to impress on the Government the economic value from avoiding fossil emissions and decarbonising heat, farming and transport sectors. Indeed Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, recently highlighted the risks associated with failing to decarbonise when speaking ahead of December’s climate change conference in Paris.

The tragedy of the Government’s failure to commit to support measures for AD is that these contributions risk not flowering into their full potential: delivering 30% of domestic heat or electricity; reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions by 4%; fuelling up to 80% of HGVs; reversing soil degradation trends; generating 35,000 jobs; and extracting the greatest possible value from inedible food waste.

AD can make a substantial contribution to a number of Government priorities, despite only receiving support for its energy generation. Industry needs continued support to scale up to the point of self-sufficiency.

ADBA is working with key stakeholders to evaluate every aspect of how industry operates, and assess what can be done to reduce reliance on subsidies. But this can only be delivered if investors are given confidence in continued shortterm support to keep the industry growing.

Charlotte Morton is chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association

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