Bioenergy Insight Conference 2017: Q&A session with Future Biogas’ John Scott-Kerr

The Bioenergy Insight Conference, a world-leading bioenergy event, will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 4 and 5 October 2017, covering the whole bioenergy supply chain.

The show will focus on all the new developments and the latest challenges.

Topics covered in the seminars include the global biomass market, financing bioenergy projects and ensuring sustainability at scale.

The debut event will be co-located with the Biofuels International Conference 2017, which is in its tenth year.

Major names including National Grid, Fram Renewable Fuels, Enviva, Scania and Green Investment Bank will be at the conference.

Among them will be John Scott-Kerr, head of business development at Future Biogas. He shares his thought on the bioenergy industry below.

What role can bioenergy play in the low-carbon economy?

Bioenergy is an essential part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, it is really the only 24 hour, 365 days a year source of renewable energy, it’s also really flexible in its deployment and can be used to make heat just as easily as it can make electricity or fuel a truck. Its real failing is almost that it is too flexible and a bit too complicated, by not fitting in one easy defined box it is often overlooked. Spread across heat, electricity and transport sectors its national contribution is sometimes difficult to quantify.

What will the policy and operational landscape look like in 2018 in the UK?

It is hard to say, there is far too much focus on Brexit and too little focus on governance across the piece. Delays on renewable heat incentive (RHI) regulations being laid before parliament are now a year later than expected and probably won't be firmed up before the end of the year. This means the bioenergy industry which is still very reliant on support has seen projects that would have been built out a year ago effectively mothballed, waiting for government to govern. The country is woefully behind on its transport and heating obligations and whilst biogas and biomass can deploy considerably faster than nuclear they cannot deploy overnight. Nationally, we are really at risk of failing to meet our green obligations, government has taken its eye off the ball and it needs to act before it is too late.

What is the next trend of the industry?

Finding solutions for transport, the Department for Transport (DfT) seems to be leaning more towards electric transport which will in the long run put a huge strain on an already struggling electrical grid, it will make more sense to share this burden with the gas network.  

Improving performance of installed plants should also be a priority across the industry, bioenergy is never a plug in walk away sort of install, mistakes can be costly and operations are key. Collectively the industry is in many regards a new one and there are a lot of fundamental mistakes being made, the industry will mature, high performers will emerge and outputs across the national portfolio will improve.

Increasing the use of private wire and heat networks with a local focus is also another trend to watch - the rest of Europe has been doing this for years, we seem to be behind the curve.

What is set to be big for bioenergy for the rest of the year?

With any luck the long overdue introduction of the revised RHI will happen by the end of the year, the industry is waiting, business plans are on hold and a good number of jobs and futures hang on the regulations being laid before government.

What represents the biggest threat for bioenergy?

Our national electrical grid infrastructure is severely limiting future projects, there needs to be work done to free up vast amounts of the grid that is reserved for generation that only happens 1 day in 10.   Nationally there are GWs of capacity reserved against speculative projects that don't even have planning and the distribution network operators (DNOs) don't have any legal grounds to recover this 'frozen capacity' which has been reserved with very small deposit payments. The DNOs have woken up to this but too late and they lack the power to recall on their earlier commitments.

Central and regional government making easy big ticket commitments to 20-year contracts to incinerate our biological waste and subsidising nuclear power at rates that are now higher than that offered to the majority of bioenergy projects is another challenge. Bioenergy offers plants that have little or no decommissioning costs in 25 years and we know the cost of deployment today, we would also employ a lot more people with a far more national deployment of staff than any nuclear plant can promise.

The incorrect view that renewables and bioenergy is the underlying reason for everyone’s huge bill hikes, it is nonsense and one that appears to drive policy making.  The average producer of electricity is currently paid less than 5 pence for a kWh, the average bill has less than one pence a kWh attributed to renewables and the average household pays 15 pence or so a kWh. Perhaps what we should really be asking is where the other 9 pence goes?  It is also worth pointing out that Britain has one of the cheapest energy bills per household when compared with the more established economies of Europe.

The 5MW limit on contract for difference (CFD) means a good proportion of bioenergy projects are being overlooked, to date not one anaerobic digestion (AD) project has bid on the CFD scheme, and it simply does not make sense. A well run 2.5 MW biogas combined heat and power (CHP) plant will make four times the power over a year than a 5MW solar plant can and it will to quote Home Secretary Amber Rudd, “provide valuable base load” to the grid.

What is the next thing industry should do more of?

The industry could find ways to use fuel cells in collaboration with bioenergy projects. It could also encourage the adoption of district heating networks and couple these with localised power supplies.

Elsewhere, the bioenergy industry could find new and innovative ways to unlock the difficult to reach power in cheap residues and biological waste.

Scott-Kerr will be speaking at 10.30am on Day Two of the Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017. His talk is entitled ‘greening the UK’s biogas system’ and he will speak about the future of the biomethane sector.

Register now for Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017 for two days of essential learning to network with experts, sharpen your bioenergy knowledge and improve your skills, on 4-5 October.

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