Waste and renewables sectors call on UK to realise integrated energy system opportunity

Fulfiling the "significant opportunity" offered by the integration of readily available low-carbon technologies across the UK's energy system will require greater collaboration between the public and private sector.

The renewables and waste sectors are seen as critical parts of the UK's low-carbon transition

The renewables and waste sectors are seen as critical parts of the UK's low-carbon transition

That was the consensus of an expert panel at an event in Westminster yesterday (5 November) which focused on how the UK could develop cross-sector strategies for emissions reduction across the economy.

RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck spoke about the vast potential for low-carbon energy sources to support the power, heat and transport sectors.

Around 30% of the UK’s electricity mix is generated by renewable sources, and with rapidly falling costs of technologies such as offshore wind, there is a growing expectation that renewables will play an increasingly important role in the UK’s energy output in the next decade.

Pinchbeck argued that, with short-term solutions from Government to help integrate renewables into energy system, low-carbon sources could offer a range of opportunities; from supporting heat and transport electrification, and building a flexible energy system alongside demand response, to providing electrolysis for hydrogen.

“That’s where a lot of our thinking is now,” Pinchbeck said. "Not about the technologies themselves, but the system. And that means stakeholders working together. That is a massive challenge. That would be massive in any Government, in any political environment, and without the urgent need to decarbonise.

“Given the challenges of Brexit, we need to come up with simple solutions as quickly as possible and approach policymakers with those. We need to be realistic about where the world is going but try to come up with short-term, next-step, easy-to-implement solutions where possible and work together with the civil service and outside industry to make change happen in difficult climates.”

Joined-up Government

The waste sector is another part of the UK’s economy well-positioned to play a major role in the UK’s decarbonisation strategy. This was a point emphasised by waste firm Suez’s external affairs director Dr Adam Read, who warned, however, that an integration of low-carbon waste solutions is at risk due to siloed approaches from Government departments.

He pointed towards research from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) which revealed an estimated 10-14 million tonnes of residual waste in the UK that could be used to generate heat, power or alternative fuel stocks such as biodiesel.

“That could be feeding three million households and be providing a significant contribution to our renewables agenda,” Read said. “But how do we get there? We need a joined-up Government. At the moment you’ve got the Department for Transport (DfT) promoting waste-to-aviation fuels, you’ve got BEIS driving the Industrial Strategy and Defra controlling and regulating the environment space.

“Yet I worry about how joined up they are when it comes to investment, promotion of, or simply direction of travel, that brings these fascinating elements of waste, energy, power and local infrastructure together.”

‘Plenty of opportunity’

Read highlighted exciting opportunities for the waste sector to deliver significant emissions reductions. The city of Bristol recently launched the first double-decker biogas bus, while Read’s own company has teamed up with British Airways in a bid to create a commercial scale waste-to-renewable-jet-fuel plant in the UK.

Just last week, a London-based waste firm revealed plans to build a £500m low-carbon energy park which could help power up to 10% of London's households by converting residual waste into green electricity.

However, only 3% of household power consumption is currently fuelled from EfW facilities, and Read is concerned that many existing plant are not connected to a decentralised heat and power network. He called on the Government to help align the heat and power sectors to secure a “bright future” for the waste industry.

“There is plenty of opportunity for investment but investment is difficult when uncertainty exists and Brexit is not the only uncertainty in our market. The future is bright for our waste and resources sector. The scope of opportunity is significant. The alignment of some of the technologies and sectors are great.

“For the first time in the 20 years I have been in this sector, I can finally see pieces of the jigsaw coming together in a way that offers significant solutions. So if we can find those end markets, align heat and power, bring political and public attention to the fore, then the future is bright.”

George Ogleby


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