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Policy should be technology neutral

Malcolm Chilton

As the demand for energy in the UK grows and to avoid the risk of energy ‘brownouts’ the UK must work harder in finding energy generated from renewable sources.

To meet its EU target of sourcing 15% of total energy from renewable sources by 2020, the UK has set an ambitious goal of generating 30% of electricity from renewable sources that date.

In March’s Budget statement, Chancellor George Osborne outlined plans to introduce a Carbon Price Support Mechanism, coming into force from April 2013, which is a positive step to incentivise investment in renewable and low carbon energy.

But what forms of renewable energy generation will need to be pursued to really make a dent in the EU’s targets?

A critical issue is availability.  There have long been concerns that renewable sources like wind and hydro do not contribute to baseload. This was highlighted in the argument that broke out  last month over a report commissioned by the John Muir Trust  that purported to show that the UK’s wind farms were working at just 21% of their capacity, when, typically, they should work to efficiencies of 28% – 30%.

The report also found that for extended periods all of the UK’s wind turbines linked to the National Grid generated less than 20MW of energy at any given point. This equated to less than 7,000 households being able to boil kettles. While the industry disputed aspects of the report’s conclusions, it underlined the fact that some of the technologies most favoured in the past through government policy interventions cannot deliver on their own.

That is why the UK needs a technology neutral energy policy.   In particular, energy policy must harness the potential of technologies such as Energy-from-Waste (EfW) which contribute to base load capacity. The UK currently produces approximately 30 million tonnes of municipal waste and 60 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste. It is this fuel source which enables a facility to work to its required capacity day in day out.

In addition, EfW helps the UK reduce its reliance on sending waste to landfill and reduces carbon emissions. Furthermore, Combined Heat and Power enabled facilities which supply local heating and cooling, in addition to electricity to the grid, have the potential to increase a plant’s efficiency upwards of 60% and beyond where the facility is able to supply a heat load.

All renewable energy generators are valuable to the UK to meet renewable energy targets, however, now is the time when some technologies, more than others, need to be identified as sound sources and a focus is needed on which technologies will have a greater impact in contributing to the UK’s high energy demand.

Malcolm Chilton is UK Managing Director of Covanta Energy

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