Waste to Energy in the UK: what does the future look like? Rolf Stein writes opinion piece for Energy and Environmental Management website

In light of the figures released from Ofgem earlier this month, which claim that Britain’s energy industry needs £200 billion worth of investment by 2020, with a strong focus on renewable technologies, the future of energy generation in the UK has been thrown again into sharp focus.

It is clear to all that a shift needs to occur which tips the balance of energy production away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable sources. It is becoming increasingly recognised by policymakers and industry players alike that the waste-to-energy sector has a crucial and significant role to play in this shift.

The waste-to-energy opportunity

The landscape for energy generation in the UK is shifting. With carbon-heavy, exhaustible fossil fuels in decline, the hunt is on for efficient, clean, consistent energy streams which can fill the gap. The government has its own ambitious renewable energy targets to be met, with 15% of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 and emissions to be cut by 34% from 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.

Added to the environmental drivers behind the shift towards increased renewable energy generation is the renewed focus on energy security, in particular the UK’s over-reliance on imported energy from volatile parts of the world at volatile prices. This is a growing issue which needs to be addressed.

With steep targets to be met, and no room for political short-termism, there is increasing recognition amongst policymakers of the need to promote innovation in renewable technology development. For example, there is a growing awareness of innovative advanced conversion waste-to-energy technologies which can generate an efficient, consistent energy source whilst also contributing to the UK’s vision for a zero waste economy. The potential for waste to be treated as a resource is an opportunity that needs to be realised, especially when the requirement for sustainable energy solutions has never been greater.

The ROCs consultation – securing waste-to-energy’s future

The aim of the long-established Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme is to support innovation in renewable technology development, to assist in the delivery of the government’s renewable energy targets. If the UK is to meet these targets and source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade, it cannot be done without appropriate levels of support at a policy level to enable the development and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies.

The recent RO banding consultation, which has set out to re-classify the support given to different technologies under the scheme, was published on 20 November 2011, with important implications for the waste to energy sector. Essentially, the Government has moved to distinguish between standard energy-from-waste technologies and advanced conversion technologies, such as Advanced Plasma Power’s Gasplasma® process, with greater support to be afforded to genuinely advanced technologies.

The best technologies are typically those at an earlier stage of development and adoption and as such generally require the greatest support. The proposed framework recognises that. A preference has clearly been expressed by Government for the most efficient and versatile technologies that have the greatest potential of delivering a sustainable energy source and meeting low-carbon targets.

The challenges that lie ahead

There is considerable appetite in the funding community to invest in advanced thermal conversion waste-to-energy projects; however that funding will only come with a consistent and transparent legislative framework to operate in. It is therefore critical that the RO scheme for 2013-2017 can achieve the appropriate levels of support for the most efficient and impactful technologies.

The outlook for waste to energy technology in the UK is very positive, with a huge opportunity to be realised. Advanced conversion technologies are an important and significant element of the future energy generation landscape, and it is hoped that the legislative framework will continue to reflect this, which in turn will encourage greater investment and growth in the industry.


One Response to “Waste to Energy in the UK: what does the future look like? Rolf Stein writes opinion piece for Energy and Environmental Management website”

  1. Richard Fox says:

    This is a very interesting response to the question –
    Waste to Energy in the UK: what does the future look like?

    How does this answer change since the BREXIT move?

    I am a project leader for RPS Group, market leaders for energy and waste projects in the UK for the natural and built environment. I am currently writing a paper to a similar title. I would be very interested in discussing this further with the possibility of some additional networking.

    Contact: [email protected]

    Senior Architectural Co-ordinator for RPS Group. Also contactable on linked-in where I have recently published my latest delivered project. Greatmoor Energy from Waste Plant in Buckinghamshire

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