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UK Clean Growth Plan – language and ambition welcomed but tangible action wanted

On October 12, UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark presented ‘The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future’ setting out how the UK is "leading the world" in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change while driving economic growth. Whilst the language and ambition of the document have been welcomed by trade bodies, tangible action is found wanting.

For the first time, the UK government is setting out in its Clean Energy Strategy how over GBP 2.5 billion (≈ EUR 2.81 billion) will be invested to support low carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021, as part of what it says is the largest increase in public spending on science, research and innovation in over three decades. This funding covers programmes delivering low carbon energy, transport, agriculture and waste.

Representing renewable energy producers and promoting the use of all forms of renewable energy across power, heat, transport and recycling the Renewable Energy Association (REA) is the largest renewable energy and clean technology (including energy storage and electric vehicles) trade association in the UK.

Commenting on the overall plan, Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of REA welcomed the “language, ambition and recommitment” from the government to lower emissions as well as its “recognition” that decarbonisation and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact linked in the coming decades.

Lacks substance

The plan focuses on areas that have not been given a huge amount of time or thought to previously in government, such as industrial efficiency or the built environment, both of which are crucial and can be a win-win.However, for many of our members they will see very little substance in this plan and we will have to ensure we are pushing government for how they intend to address the big issues of adding low-carbon generation, greening our heat system, cleaning our transport and leading the decentralisation revolution that will lead to a cheaper and low-carbon future, said Dr Skorupska.

Commenting on the specifics sectors of the plan, James Court, Head of Policy and External Affairs at REA noted that heat remains one of the biggest problems.

This plan still leaves us short of meeting the Fifth Carbon Budget. It is clear that there is not one silver bullet for heat, and this plan recognises that insulation and planning regulations need serious attention, but doesn’t set out a long-term market framework for the heat sector beyond 2020. We hope this will lead to a revisiting of the Zero Carbon Homes debate and a genuine commitment to building future proofed homes that have efficiency and domestic renewable generation at its heart, said Court.

An aerial view of Europe’s largest biomass power project, Drax Power station in the UK with four pellet storage domes (photo courtesy Drax).

An aerial view of Europe’s largest biomass power project, Drax Power station in the UK with four pellet storage domes. In 2016 the European Commission (EC) opened an in-depth investigation, which included feedback from “interested third parties”, to ensure that the proposed CfD for Drax would not lead to overcompensation and undue biomass market distortions. The EC found that the increased demand for wood pellets could be “fulfilled by the market without undue negative side-effects” and that the project’s contribution to increasing the share of renewable energy produced in the UK “outweighs any potential distortions of competition that could be triggered” by the government support (photo courtesy Drax).

In the electricity sector, Court remarked that a much more technology-neutral approach needed to be seen. He alluded to the recent government announcement of GBP 557 million (≈ EUR 626.23 million) of funding in coming Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions for “less established renewables” as part of the Clean Growth Strategy.

In power we need to see much more technology neutral approach, with the cheapest generation onshore wind and solar remaining blocked to market, and the backbone of the low-carbon revolution, bioenergy, forgotten. We cannot have a low cost, low carbon and secure energy transformation without these technologies, hea said alluding to the recent gove contract for difference.

For transportation Court conceded that more answers are emerging but that the electric vehicle (EV) “hopes”, as outlined in the strategy, “need more actions than words” if the UK is to become a world leader whereas the role of biofuels deserves more recognition.

We need a bold strategy on the smart charging infrastructure that can be a pillar of new low carbon communities. There also needs to be recognition of the significant role that biofuels play currently and the much larger role they can play in the future, Court said.

AD can underpin Clean Growth Strategy

Distinctively more positive, the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), a trade association for the anaerobic digestion (AD) industry in the UK also welcomed the Clean Growth Strategy and said that AD can play an underpinning role in meeting the strategy’s goals.

The multi-faceted nature of AD means that, with the right support, it can play a central role in decarbonising heat, electricity, transport, and farming, as well as increasing energy and food security and restoring the UK’s degraded soils. No other technology can make such a key contribution to so many different areas of the Clean Growth Strategy, said ADBA Chief Executive Charlotte Morton.

Although more receptive than REA, Morton also points out that tying in with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) the upcoming Resources & Waste Strategy supported by meaningful funding and legislation to divert food waste from landfill will be needed.

We welcome the government’s ambition to divert all food waste from landfill by 2030 and to support local authorities in rolling out separate food waste collections. We look forward to BEIS’s new Resources & Waste Strategy, which will need to be supported by meaningful funding and legislation to effect the scale of change needed for an urgent transition to a more circular economy, she said.

Clearfleau completed commissioning in 2015 of new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for global drinks major Diageo at its Glendullan Scottish whisky distillery in Speyside. With a unique liquid treatment process, pot ale and other liquid effluents are treated in 1 MWth biogas plant. The biogas is used for heat production by the distillery (photo courtesy Clearfleau).

Clearfleau, a UK provider of on-site bioenergy plants for the food and beverage processing sector, with operational plants in the food, dairy, drinks and biofuel sectors, designed to optimise on-site energy output from liquid processing residues echoed ADBA’s sentiment on food waste.

We are pleased that the Clean Growth Strategy will encourage business models which encourage resource efficiency and offers support for switching to lower-carbon fuels. But this also requires specific measures to help SME businesses, in sectors like food and drink manufacturing, invest in the on-site generation of bioenergy from process residues, to reduce both costs and carbon emissions. Large multinationals are already investing in low carbon manufacture but smaller companies need external support. This is a sector where the UK can take a lead but it needs seed funding to support British companies active in the sector, help develop low carbon systems and related technology, exploit potential export markets and create more engineering jobs, said Richard Gueterbock, Director of Clearfleau.

According to Charlotte Morton, ADBA, the following “tangible support” for AD is needed:

  • Urgent tabling of legislation on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to renew support for biomethane-to-grid
  • A long-term replacement for the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) to support small-scale renewable electricity generation
  • Mandatory separate food waste collections in England to allow AD to recycle this vital and underused resource
  • A new support system for farmers that rewards carbon abatement and incentivises the use of biofertiliser to restore soils

We also welcome the strategy’s highlighting of the importance of best practice in AD. ADBA’s pioneering, industry-led Best Practice Scheme, which will be launched in full later this year, will help support AD operators in meeting the highest environmental, health and safety, and operational standards. The publication of the Clean Growth Strategy today is a welcome sign that the government is starting to think about how we can make the deep emissions cuts that will be necessary to meet the Fourth and Fifth Carbon Budgets over the next 15 years, said Morton.

Inclusion of forestry and timber, a potential game-changer

The document also commits to “establish a new network of forests in England including new woodland on farmland, and fund larger-scale woodland and forest creation, in support of our commitment to plant 11 million trees, and increase the amount of UK timber used in construction”.

Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confederation of Forest Industries (UK) Ltd (Confor) welcomed the fact that an 11 million tree planting target to green, clean growth in rural communities and using more UK timber in construction is linked to the strategy. He also welcomed the emphasis on support for large-scale forest and woodland creation – and for more tree planting on farms.

I am delighted to see the wider benefits of modern productive forestry recognised. Confor has campaigned over many years for enhanced tree planting and stresses that it can help us towards a truly sustainable future by delivering for our economy, environment and communities. This document puts productive forestry at the heart of these discussions and links it to other policy objectives, such as meeting climate change targets and promoting rural employment. It really could be a game changer for the sector, Goodall said.

Bioenergy is one of the most scalable, cost-effective and flexible sources of renewable energy with the capability to meet around 10 percent of future UK energy needs. It could also deliver net negative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of around 55 million tonnes annually in the 2050s if combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), according to the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) that has released over 100 documents including data sets and project reports from its Bioenergy Programme. To keep the UK on the trajectory for scaling up domestic biomass production into the 2050s, there should be a steady increase in the planting of second generation bioenergy crops on marginal arable land or appropriate grassland in the UK by about 30 000 hectares per year according to Geraint Evans, ETI programme manager (photo courtesy ETI).

Goodall highlighted that the greater use of home-grown wood could also help to decarbonise construction as wood both locks-up carbon, but also requires little energy to produce.

We need to think about planting trees not just to lock up carbon, but also to produce the everyday products that we all need and to create employment. The UK is the second largest net importer of wood after China, in the world, he said.

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