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The elusive dream of CHP in the UK

Paul Levett

Paul Levett on why we need more combined heat and power plants in the UK

It is a well known reality that Energy Recovery Facilities (ERFs) with Combined Heat and Power (CHP) are more common in northern Europe than in the UK. This results in the production and use of energy within the UK being less efficient compared to many other countries.

CHP is an energy conversion process producing electricity and heat (steam and/or hot water) simultaneously which can be channelled into homes, offices and industries.

There has been difficulty in convcincing public bodies to take heat at a commercial price

As things stand we only operate one CHP plant in Sheffield. Admittedly, we have the ability to produce CHP at a number of our facilities including our ERF at SELCHP [South East London CHP] but this has not been developed. This has not been due to any reluctance to develop CHP, nor the physical challenges of building the infrastructure, but the difficulty in convincing public bodies and private organisations to give undertakings to take the heat at a commercial price. We believe that this will only be corrected by direct intervention and support by the public sector.  Subsidies and the underwriting of housing associations would take away any risk involved and help CHP technology benefit the masses.

The Government has recognised the importance of CHP and operators of ERFs with CHP can receive Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for ERFs that produce ‘Good Quality CHP’. However, plants are currently incentivised on the maximum generation of electricity, not the total maximisation of thermal efficiency.   It was hoped that the Renewable Heat Incentive would address this, but in the consultation issued in February 2010, the proposals for large installations remain uncertain.

The Institution of Civil Engineers recently estimated that energy recovered from waste could account for as much as 17% of the UK’s electricity consumption in 2020. ERFs are not as dependant on weather as wind turbines and appropriate subsidies will advance the generation of energy recovered from waste, cutting down on fossil fuel consumption.

In practice, building ERFs with CHP has not always been possible. This is because development of any waste-related infrastructure receives a level of opposition, and there is a particular pressure at local planning level to locate ERFs away from the communities that produce the waste and need the heat. CHP requires steady and constant consumption, so isolated and rural areas are not always viable locations.  However, installation of CHP in new towns and industrial/retail developments can be very attractive as infrastructure costs are much less than retro fitting in existing urban environments.

In conclusion, we would like to see the Government clarify the situation and support the specific development of heat networks, rather than energy conversion technologies.  This will ensure that the subsidies encourage higher energy efficiency and sustainability for the future.

Our position with regards to CHP and five other key position papers will form part of Veolia’s Waste Manifesto 2 which will be launched at the Futresource event at Exel, London on Wednesday 16 June 2010.

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