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Champing at the bit

This year’s European Bioenergy Exhibition and Conference (EBEC), on 10-11 October, was held in the wake of the Government’s U-turn on financial subsidies for small-scale anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities, which means those generating output between 50kW and 5MW will continue to receive Renewable Obligation Certificates.

While this is one level of uncertainty that has been removed, there continues to be frustration at the seeming lack of clarity on renewable energy policy. This is is impairing investment in, and development of, a range of projects that can help to achieve renewable targets and support UK economic growth. This is despite Government claims that ‘clarity’ is being provided to the sector. 

One bright star on the horizon has been the announcement on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) consultation, where the Government is likely to extend the eligibility of biogas for thermal uses to projects greater than 200kW. This is a significant step forward despite being, of course, simply a consultation proposal at the moment. The levels of support proposed could mark a significant uplift in project viability for small- to medium-sized systems.

It was noticeable at the show that there was significantly more interest in biomethane upgrade technologies and grid injection (biogas to grid or BtG). BtG offers a fantastic opportunity to optimise the carbon benefit from biogas, yet it currently suffers from stringent gas network entry requirements and complex custody contractual issues which affect project bankability.

The EBEC speaker programme included presentations and panel contributions designed to help navigate the legislation, regulation and policy minefield that continues to surround renewable energy. It comes as no surprise that discussions giving the latest information on topics such as RHI, Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) and The Green Deal attracted much attention.

For the waste industry, the hot topic is the downward pressure on gate fees, partly driven in some areas by local competition, over-capacity, and more generally due to the increased knowledge base of waste producers that their waste has an intrinsic energy value. 

There was significant interest in the first waste project to receive funding from UK Green Investments (UKGI) - TEG’s 30,000 tonnes a year food waste plant at Dagenham for which UTS Biogas is the process supplier.

Additional hot topics included the ‘frenzy’ to achieve FIT accreditation before tariff degression kicks in. 

It is clear that the appetite for AD development is strong, particularly in the farming sector. As ever, the compliance and health and safety obligations of this industry loomed large to developers and technology suppliers alike.

The take-home message from the conference was that there is reason to be optimistic about the future as the number of biogas plants in the UK continues to rise. This will bringing with it further recognition and confidence in technology which can add significant value.

Clarity on subsidies which can encourage planning and investment, along with clear renewable policy and support from Westminster, will help industry evolution. By the time of EBEC 2013, let’s hope there will have been the opportunity for businesses to capitalise on the interest and optimism displayed at this year’s event.

Mike Bullard, managing director, UTS Biogas

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