The energy-from-waste (EfW) sector is well-placed to benefit from changing economic and political attitudes to renewable energy, according to an expert on UK policy.
matthew knight siemens
Matthew Knight, director of energy strategy and government affairs at Siemens, pictured, told a conference that the recent contracts-for-difference (CfD) auction, which returned significantly lower strike prices than had been anticipated had “changed energy politics in this country”.
This is seen as an indication that new renewable techologies are more likely to developed without subsidy.
Knight recalled, in the past, attending Conservative party conferences and finding delegates and politicians “generally disinterested or sceptical about energy”.
But this had changed at the most recent one, in Manchester in October: “When they suddenly heard that offshore wind might be cheap, that completely changed the political dynamic,” he said. “There is now a moment that we can talk about energy to politicians and get a hearing. EfW needs to seize the moment.”
While CfDs are dominated by large-capacity offshore wind schemes, six of the 11 successful projects were smaller advanced conversion technology (ACT) schemes.
“The best governments are very clear about on how they’re going to intervene and what the intention is. That allows investors to be reasonably confident about the direction of energy policy,” Knight told the conference in Coventry, the third two-yearly event staged by Siemens.
“Waste to energy, particularly when you look at combined heat and power, has a tremendously positive message about using waste more efficiently.”
Knight noted a change in Government attitude, saying ministers were “trying to get on the front foot” and that had prompted its Clean Growth strategy.
But he warned that technologies were changing fast and that could be distracting for politicians: “We need to get waste from energy seen as a long-term technology - not just a fad.”
He said some officials in the Department for Business and Industrial Strategy understood this and considered not using waste as a resource as being irresponsible.
graham parry biomass power
Another speaker, Graham Parry, managing director of Biomass Power, right, backed the suggestion that renewable energy becoming more accessible by saying customers looking to build merchant EfW plants no longer saw subsidies as a key part of their plans.
“Either because subsidies are not achievable or are so uncertain, they need to get to the stage where their projects are viable without them. There are a lot of projects without the subsidies.”
He said there was also considerable overseas interest in gasification technology, notably India and China.
Ben Herbert, director of research and environment at Stopford Energy Environment, said there were new opportunities in the sector, particularly for the smaller scales schemes in the medical and the pharmaceutical industries and for aviation.
He acknowledged that the failure of Air Products’ large-scale Tees Valley gasification project had been a setback for the industry but argued there was still a future for ACT.
Herbert said his consultancy was looking at microwave-induced plasma gasification on a small scale of perhaps 1,000 tonnes per annum in a containerised facility. Currently, the efficiency was around 20% but developers were looking to get this figure nearer to 60% to make it viable for more localised energy distribution.
“Plasma gasification is the holy grail if we can get it right,” he said.