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The changing landscape of energy and Viridor’s role

Ardley Energy Recovery Facility.

The following opinion piece first appeared in CIWM Journal on 9 August,  2018.

The energy landscape in Great Britain has changed dramatically in recent years with most new capacity coming from smaller, locally connected generation sources. This trend is set to continue, says Viridor energy accreditations manager Steven Sepp.

Viridor has embraced this evolving energy landscape, investing in a fleet low-carbon Energy Recovery Facilities (ERFs) as well as other renewable generation like solar and anaerobic digestion, with the fleet expected to grow to more than 300MW by 2021, enough for around 650,000 homes.

The current portfolio has around 200MW of generation capacity, mostly from a fleet of ERFs located in Oxfordshire, Cardiff, Peterborough, Exeter, Runcorn and a joint venture with Grundon Waste Management in Slough. This fleet processes more than two million tonnes of residual waste which cannot be recycled. This year new facilities in Dunbar, Beddington and Glasgow will be commissioned followed by Avonmouth in 2020.

Since the middle of the last century, the Great Britain power system was designed to move electricity from large power stations (coal, nuclear, oil and gas) over the transmission network, National Grid, to the regional distribution grids to which consumers were connected. The growth of renewable and low-carbon technologies has disrupted this traditional structure, challenging business models across the industry, while creating new opportunities for generators and consumers.

In recent years, schemes such as the Renewable Obligation (RO), Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) and Contracts for Difference (CfD) have been used to support the build out of low and zero-carbon generation such as solar and wind, with other types low carbon generation like Energy from Waste finding a place without direct support.

On the other side of the scale, carbon taxes and emissions limits have forced older large-scale coal and gas plants to close, with the market now regularly operating without the need for any coal generation.

This April, the Great Britain network went a full 76 hours without burning coal. And through only the first half of 2018, the network has already gone more than 850 hours without using any coal, compared to 624 hours throughout the whole of 2017.

Economic and technical considerations have led to much of the new generation being ‘embedded’ within the regional distribution grids, gradually changing the system architecture which in turn creates new opportunities for generators and consumers alike.

Prior to the influx of renewables, generation was largely predictable and controllable, making networks relatively easy to manage. As intermittent solar and wind become a larger proportion of the generation mix, displacing controllable coal and gas stations, balancing the system becomes increasingly difficult and more expensive.

This has led to opportunities for consumers via demand management solutions which aim to change when electricity is consumed and in turn create a new revenue stream for a participating business. Similar opportunities exist for businesses to develop on-site generation and earn revenue.

Energy storage has high potential and will be at the vanguard of future market developments in its own right, but storage also plays an important role in facilitating the further role of existing renewable sources by better matching intermittent generation to demand. This area of the market is still in its infancy but is developing very rapidly, with multiple technologies and approaches being explored – some will fail to find a long-term place in the power market, but others will undoubtably succeed.

Alongside the development of battery technology, another big revolution will be taking place in the coming years – the electrification of transport.  An increasing number of electric vehicles will increase the total energy demand of the system significantly. Smart electric vehicles may be able to charge and discharge depending on market conditions, possibly creating revenue for people who have EVs at home all day and actually reducing peak power demand.

Viridor’s Energy Team continues to look for opportunities to work with strategic partners across the waste, recyclates and energy space to offer holistic solutions in areas such as waste into low carbon energy solutions or specialised Power Purchase Agreements with generation asset owners.

The company will continue to play an integral part in not only continuing to provide essential recycling and waste management solutions, but also in the effort of decarbonising the energy sector, by producing low-carbon electricity from residual waste.

Recently, awareness towards waste, recycling and particularly plastic contamination has grown significantly, aided by increased exposure in the press. As a result, over the coming years a higher proportion of materials will be recycled, decreasing the amount that ends up as residual waste.

However, there will continue to be strong demand for managing residual waste in large quantities for decades to come and Viridor’s fleet of energy recovery facilities ensures that this is done in a responsible manner, while Viridor’s Energy Team ensures that the output from these plants is optimised and managed efficiently.

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