It’s not easy being green

A look at the role of legislation and innovation in the renewable energy sector

As Dick Strawbridge’s program once said, “It’s not easy being green”. He then set about showing us all how we could do our bit to help the planet. With COP26 much in the headlines, I find myself reflecting on what more we can do and how the government and countries of the world can help us achieve zero carbon and a sustainable future.

Carrot and stick

Does legislation work? Sometimes it does, it just needs to be pitched “just right”. Take the government’s plan to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2030. This was a great move and gave the industry the nudge it needed. Almost all major car manufacturers are now focusing on electric cars for the future. For the renewable energy sector, it seems we need the carrot, such as Renewable Obligation Certificate’s (ROCs), which enables producers of renewable electricity to receive certificates for every megawatt of electricity produced, or Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which enables producer of renewable heat to receive a payment for every eligible kWh of heat provided. This can stimulate uptake in the technology. The hope being that after the initial incentive the industry will become self-sustaining.

Renewable Energy, sustainability and the circular economy

At present we have been at the leading edge of new technology and taken up any government initiative we can to help improve our renewable involvement. We’ve been producing biogas from sewage sludge since the 1960s. We upscaled and replaced our old equipment in the noughties to increase capacity and efficiency, incentivised by the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROCs). We built the first co-located Food Waste recycling facility in 2014, which produces 20,000 m3 of biogas a day from waste food. We were first to have a poo powered VW beetle, then a poo powered bus. We were one of the first to build a biomethane injection plant running on food waste and sewage gas. We have gone on to have biomethane power waste food collection vehicles and now have biomethane powered digestate (a fertiliser alternative) delivery vehicles. We really believe in a circular economy.

Science, technology and innovation

In order to make the massive leaps towards carbon neutrality we need the scientists and engineers to come up with some real game changing ideas. It’s a war and time is running out. We need new energy sources, new storage concepts and much higher efficiencies to get us across the finishing line. I like to think that the science fiction writers have the right ideas. I picture a future where there are CO2 absorption units on every corner. Wind, tidal and solar are being harnessed not only for electricity, but to run electrolysers that are producing tonnes of hydrogen which is then pumped around the country for heating and transportation.

Heat pumps versus natural gas

GENeco’s current challenge is to become more sustainable in our heat production. We are evaluating the opportunities available from air/ground source heat pumps that would reduce our carbon footprint, but increase our costs. This is where the government can help. The industry needs support to bring down the costs of industrial sized heat pumps, either investing in the technology or incentivising the bigger customers to make the change.

What’s next for GENeco?

As we wait for the scientist and engineers to develop the next technological advance, we are reviewing our opportunities for green hydrogen, CO2 capture and repurposing, pyrolysis, bio char and large-scale heat from ground/air and water.

Working to build a better future

One of the best ways of achieving a better sustainable future is to work with the adults of tomorrow, explaining what we do and how we do it. In that way we influence the decision makers and engineers of tomorrow and begin to push against an open door. With our Ignite programme we have been working with young people in schools from our local areas for several years now, introducing them to the sustainability sector, improving their skills to propel them along their career journeys and trying to inspire them to see what is possible. The enthusiasm we have experienced has been exceptional and with the help of these students one day it will be easy to be green.

Written by Wayne Boakes, Head of Renewable Energy