Sewage, animal manure, food and other waste could produce enough biogas to heat half the UK’s homes with an investment in the region of £10billion, according to a report by Ernst & Young, commissioned by the National Grid.
The report claims that biogas produced from biodegradable waste could become a more reliable source of renewable heating, providing energy security benefits in light of depleting supplies from the North Sea. National Grid is keen to drive this claiming that with the right incentives, it would allow the UK to utilize the existing natural gas infrastructure, and provide an output for our waste, whilst taking a positive step towards achieving its goal of producing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Whilst biogas is already produced in small quantities to meet operating energy needs at landfill and sewage plants in the UK it is being used to generate electricity (incentivised by the Renewables Obligation). However, National Grid claim that these valuable waste streams could be used more efficiently by turning them into biomethane to meet the country’s domestic gas needs.
“Biogas has tremendous potential for delivering large scale renewable heat for the UK, but it will require Government commitment to a comprehensive waste policy and the right commercial incentives,” said Janine Freeman, head of National Grid’s Sustainable Gas Group.
Biomethane is already a proven energy source in Europe, where it is already being produced and injected into gas grids. The largest biogas plant is expected to begin operating in Germany in the next few months.
The report was forwarded to Ed Milliband, Minister for Climate Change and Energy, today, hoping for government support to drive this technology at a large scale in the UK. National Grid highlight that the project has no major technical or safety barriers but does require the government to put in place appropriate incentives.
Firstly, it will be important to develop a waste management strategy/policy to ensure each waste stream is directed to the appropriate biogas technology. A new incentive scheme may be required to encourage biogas producers to send their gas to the natural gas grid, rather than generate electricity from it (as is currently promoted in the Renewable Obligation).
In addition there may be a need for a new regulatory framework to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the gas transporters who will provide renewable gas connections. Watch this space to see how this develops.