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Renewables uncertainty: Gaynor Hartnell looks back on 12 years heading the REA

After a dozen at the forefront of the renewable energy industry, Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, tells Tom Kenning how the industry has changed and what challenges lie ahead.

Gaynor Hartnell’s 12 years at the helm REA have seen a blossoming of potential for renewable energy recently pegged back by a lack of commitment from UK policymakers.

Early on, energy from waste (EfW) was not eligible for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) so there were few financial incentives, according to Hartnell. By 2006, EfW combustion with combined heat and power had become eligible.

But the major driver for the industry came in 2009 with the Renewable Energy Directive, which covered heat as well as transport fuels and power.

“Those were really the golden days of the REA and the industry, because there was a huge market to go for. All the different technologies aspired to grow as fast as they could. There wasn’t tension over what could be deployed,” says Hartnell.

The banding of the Renewables Obligation, the introduction of Feed-In tariffs, the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation all gave financial incentives for varying technologies.

But Hartnell adds: “The financial crisis should have led the Government to focus on the most cost-effective means of meeting our renewables targets. Instead it focused on micro-management, which resulted in technologies fighting for diminishing budgets between each other.”

Looking ahead, Hartnell says there is also uncertainty about the electricity market reform (EMR) package, due to become law at the end of the year. Contracts for Difference will replace ROCs, but they will run in parallel until 2017.

“The big picture of EMR is that the Government wants to meet the 2020 renewables target and then after that it does not want to have a renewables target,” she says.

“It just wants to have a CO2 target. That is not a particularly comfortable place for renewables to be in.”

The REA would like the European Commission to recommend renewables targets post-2020.

As a general rule for the industry, Hartnell advises that the output of EfW sites in terms of power generated and heat sold needs to be rewarded instead of rewarding input with a gate fee, because efficiency suffers otherwise.

Hartnell concludes: “The renewables industry has grown up and matured hugely, but it’s still got a long way to go.”

Hartnell on…

Anaerobic Digestion (AD)

“It’s come right up the political agenda, but there’s tension between energy crops for AD and food waste for AD. I am concerned about proposals for a food waste hierarchy as AD is at the bottom. We really need more of it.”

Biomass heat

“Government should welcome as much dedicated biomass power generation as possible. It’s shocking that the end of the road has come in terms of financial incentives. We need the capacity. If incentives come again later, the industry won’t be around.”

Gasification/Pyrolysis

“It’s very flexible and for that reason it’s worth encouraging. You can use to syngas for electricity or you can clean it up and put it into the gas grid. Instead of using crude oil you can also use waste to make plastic.”

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