Friday, March 30, 2012

Government leaves domestic biogas and microbes CCS out of its heat strategy

solar water heating

The Government has launched a consultation on its strategy for decarbonising heat which omits domestic biogas and the method favoured by Richard Branson for carbon capture.

This is the second consultation on the topic of heat in three years; the last one resulted in the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Green Deal. This one attempts to envisage how the market will be transformed as a result, and as part of the goal of supplying 15% of UK energy from renewables by 2020.

Launching the consultation, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey spoke of the need to cut emissions from the way we generate heat and said that many towns, cities and communities across the UK are already switching from fossil fuels to low carbon forms of heating like biomass, heat pumps and solar thermal.

“I want to give the opportunity to others to follow the pioneers," he said, “so that in time, our buildings are no longer dependent on burning fossil fuels for heat but using affordable and reliable alternatives to help create a flourishing, competitive low carbon manufacturing industry."

Alongside the consultation DECC published a series of electronic maps which show the heat demand from buildings across England, aimed at developers so they might identify areas in most need of low carbon heating projects and local authorities.

Demand reduction

The document envisages different solutions for different locations and geographies, as households, businesses and local authorities choose the approach that will work best for their circumstances.

It proceeds logically through an examination of measures to reduce the wastage of heat and hence demand, through to an examination of means to supply the remaining demand.

In particular there is emphasis on the potential for expansion in the heat pumps market and the solar thermal market. In 2010, the UK heat pump market alone was worth nearly £50m, and the solar thermal market grew 24% to £25m.

Heat networks

There is also hope expressed that more heat networks will be installed by, for example, integrating them with local authority plans for urban growth and regeneration.

The document notes that such networks can be the most effective way of supplying low carbon heat to buildings, offering the benefit of flexibility, since a number of different heat sources, such as biomass and gas boilers, combined heat and power (CHP) plants and heat from energy-from-waste plants, can supply the same network.

However, they have a high upfront cost due to the need to install the pipework, and to their dependence on municipal vision. Hence, although widespread in Europe, there are a few examples in this country, exceptions being Nottingham, Sheffield, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Southampton and a new project in Newcastle which is to be supplied from geothermal heat.

The Newcastle borehole will eventually reach 1821m and tap into water at a temperature of 80 deg. C, which will be used to heat a new science park.

Nottingham's one of the largest district heating networks in the UK, with a 65km network serving over 4,600 homes and 100 businesses and public sector properties; roughly 3.5% of the city’s entire heat consumption.

Measures for industry

The consultation also examines the decarbonisation of process heat for industry to create a separate strategy. "By focusing on biomass, biogas and electrification, as well as innovative technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage, we have the opportunity to achieve a competitive advantage, winning contracts abroad in a new and thriving global market," it says.

It recognises six major subdivisions of industry which will need their own specialised attention. These are: Coke and refined petroleum, food and drink, pulp and paper, basic metals, non-metallics and chemicals.

It sees particular opportunities for combined heat and power, which is ironic considering that George Osborne removed support from the technology in his budget two weeks ago.


Responding to the Heat Strategy, Energy Networks Association (ENA) Chief Executive, David Smith, expressed disappointment that “domestic use of bio-gas has not been considered. As the Strategy points out, currently 81% of the UK uses gas for its heat and hot water.

"To ignore a potential fuel source which can use existing domestic heat infrastructure seems bizarre to say the least.

“With the proposal that gas for domestic heat be phased in only a decade or so the Strategy has also failed to consider the cost implications for the public."

The ENA is undertaking a major study on domestic heat out to 2050 that will be published in early May.

The Strategy does refer to biomethane injection into the gas grid for the industrial sector. It notes that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) currently only gives support for biogas from anaerobic digestion, sewage gas and syngas for heating equipment with a capacity of less than 200kWh.

It says that the Government will consult on removing this limit or setting a higher limit in September.

Hot air

The RHI is currently limited to supporting installations which generate hot water or steam through a boiler or engine, as these can be metered relatively easily.

The Government is also considering the inclusion of equipment which can heat air directly, thereby potentially expanding the type and number of industrial uses of bioenergy which the RHI supports.

Electrification and carbon storage

The strategy also notes the potential for carbon capture and storage at a small, industrial scale. But it does not seem to be aware of the latest technologies such as the use of microbes, as supported by Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic.

In the short term it expects industry to concentrate on energy efficiency, switching to low temperature processes and sustainable biomass, using CHP and fuel switching.

After 2020 is looking for even greater efficiency of thermal processes using heat recovery or reuse between high and low temperature processes, greater use of biogas and sustainable biomass, and further electrification of lower temperature processes, for example through direct electric steam generation as the grid itself is the carbonised.

In the longer term wider deployment of carbon capture and storage is anticipated to capture the remaining inherent process emissions. Further fuel switching to electricity and biomass for the remaining high-temperature processes is also expected.

Roger Webb, director of the Heating and Hot Water Industry Council (HHIC), thought this could be a problem. "From the strategy it seems there is a big push on electricity rather than fossil fuels - so the main question is how quickly can we move forward to low carbon electricity?"

DECC expects to receive responses by May 24, expand its evidence base and produce a range of policy proposals around the beginning of next year.

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