The RO Consultation a resource(ful) approach?

Advanced Plasma Power chief executive, Rolf Stein, writes for edie energy on the Renewable Obligation consultation which closes this month.

In response to the long-held knowledge of the world's over-reliance on fossil fuels and an ongoing fear of the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, Government has set ambitious renewable energy targets to be met by 2020.

If the UK is to meet these targets and source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade, there need to be appropriate levels of support at a policy level to enable the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies.

De-carbonising and securing our future energy generation capacity is significantly less costly than the alternatives.

If we do nothing and continue our reliance on fossil fuel we will continue to experience price increases of the nature seen recently as the world's (and our own) resources are depleted.

Nuclear is also by no means a cheap alternative especially when factoring in the legacy or lifecycle cost.

There is certainly a high level of interest in the recent banding proposals for the levels of support available for renewable electricity generation under the Renewable Obligation (RO) for the period 2013-2017, published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on 20 October 2011.

This is no doubt a reflection of the significance of getting the banding levels right not only for the renewable industry but also for the country especially in a challenging macro-economic climate.

Waste to energy has a significant role to play in helping to improve energy security and to contribute to the achievement of renewable generation targets quickly.

Estimates on potential capacity vary and are very dependent on the technology employed and obviously the rate of adoption. The aim of the RO is to promote innovation in renewable technology development and this has again been reflected in the banding proposals.

There is increasing recognition amongst policy makers that innovative Advanced Conversion Technologies (ACTs) can help meet the Government's renewable energy targets 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, and the requirement for sustainable waste-to-energy solutions has never been greater.

What is more, the UK is home to a number of these pioneering technologies and, under the right conditions, is set to become a global leader in this field.

For example, Swindon-based Advanced Plasma Power has developed its own proprietary ACT, in the form of a unique two-stage gasification process combining existing technology which allows for the clean and efficient conversion of waste to energy.

The core Gasplasma technology is internationally patented and combines two long standing and well proven technologies (gasification and plasma treatment) in a novel way to convert waste into a very clean, hydrogen-rich synthesis gas (syngas).

The two products from the process, the energy-rich syngas and the Plasmarok have a variety of end uses making the technology very flexible.

A standard Gasplasma facility is sized to process around 150,000 tonnes per year of residual municipal or commercial waste removing valuable recyclates and creating 90,000 tonnes per year of Refused Derived Fuel (RDF).

In the consultation on the 2012 ROC Banding Review issued by DECC in October, there was a move to distinguish further between conventional energy-from-waste technologies and advanced conversion technologies.

Currently, operators of energy from waste facilities with combined heat and power (CHP) technology can claim one ROC for every megawatt hour of electricity generated.

Under the proposals, the level of subsidy available to these conventional energy-from-waste facilities will be halved.

Those using advanced conversion technologies can currently claim two ROCs.

This level of subsidy will also decrease under the new proposals, however to a much lesser extent - the level of ROC support for advanced gasification for example is intended to reduce by 10% by 2016/17.

Proposed changes to the definition of ACTs will also see stricter qualification criteria being applied in order to qualify for 2 ROCs.

Although, any reduction in levels of support is not ideal, it is encouraging to see that there is continued recognition that the most efficient and flexible conversion technologies need the greatest opportunity for development.

ROCs are a critical support mechanism for these emerging technologies in order to attract private sector funding especially in difficult macro-economic conditions.

Since its inception, the RO has provided a framework that supports the best technologies and those at the earliest stage of development that require the greatest support to achieve rapid and widespread adoption.

There is appetite in the funding community to invest in advanced gasification waste-to-energy projects, however the potential for the UK to become a world leader in this area in the near term will only be realised if there is a supportive, consistent and transparent legislative framework to operate within until 2017 and then beyond.

We certainly see a significant opportunity for energy from waste in the UK and in particular for those advanced conversion technologies which deliver at the interface or convergence of all of the diverse regulatory drivers in respect of recycling, landfill diversion, efficient energy generation, heat recovery and local acceptability and which in addition offer a flexible platform for future applications.

It stands to reason, in our view, that such advanced technologies should be distinguished from others and should be preferred as is being proposed.

Now that the proposals have been put out to consultation, interested parties have until January 12 to submit responses.

Advanced gasification 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.

Rolf Stein is chief executive of Advanced Plasma Power.


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