Thriving in the Renewable Energy Economy :
Jun 03 2016
Author: Steve Billingham on behalf of QED Environmental Systems Ltd
Renewable energy has been a significant part of the national conversation for the past few decades. Greater energy demands, combined with the rise in innovative technologies to harness the power of cleaner energy sources have caused us to relook at the way we produce and supply energy. Furthermore, with increasing global awareness on the need to combat climate change, it is safe to say that we are now moving past incremental changes to a complete energy revolution in the near future.
According to researchers, GlobalData, renewable energy production in Europe is predicted to grow at over 8 per cent year-on-year until 2020; more than twice the rate of coal-fired electricity. In the UK specifically, a record 25 per cent of electricity generated in 2014 came from wind farms, solar panels and other renewable power sources, up from 9 per cent in 2011.
This is a step in the right direction for the world in general and the UK in particular. Nevertheless, at the heart of this discussion is the ongoing debate whether cleaner and alternative energy sources can meet current and future demands, and whether the UK can go beyond meeting its carbon emission reduction targets to sustaining a renewable energy economy in the long term.
The answers to these questions are dependent on whether industry players in the various sectors, government agencies, technopreneurs and consumers can work cohesively to move towards a circular economy; one that produces no waste and pollution by design and one where the customers are simultaneously both energy producers and consumers.
To do so, industry players should embrace some of the following opportunities;
Reducing Dependency on Natural Gas with Biomethane
In 2015 the UK’s biomethane industry was the fastest growing in the world. By the end of 2016 it will produce the equivalent of four liquid natural gas (LNG) tankers worth of gas yearly, which it injects directly into the country’s natural gas grid. Biomethane, a renewable gas that is developed from the anaerobic digestion process, is identical in chemical composition to natural gas.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) systems are well-suited for processing food and farm waste, while there is enormous untapped potential for harnessing green gas from wastewater plants. The efficiency of the process in producing energy and managing wastes has resulted in increased enthusiasm in its adoption, particularly by large players in the agriculture and the food and beverage (F & B) sector.
Sainsbury’s supermarket for example, is now using power generated from its own recycled food waste. This entails the collection of food waste from Sainsbury’s depots, which is then transported to an AD plant where it is used to generate gas. The gas is then exported to the national gas grid and supplied to Sainsbury’s stores nationwide for power and heating.
This arrangement has made it possible for Sainsbury’s stores to significantly increase their use of renewable energy while lowering utility bills. Beyond that, it has also helped the chain to reduce the amount of inedible food waste sent to landfills.
Nestlé UK on the other hand, has built its own anaerobic digestion plant in its factory in Fawdon, where leftovers from making sweets such as Fruit Pastilles and Toffee Crisps are turned into biogas that can produce electricity and heat. With the AD plant in place, the site tackles around 1,200 tonnes of food waste a year while generating 8 per cent of the factory’s power.
Additionally, AD plants allow farmers to diversify their revenue streams, provide high-quality fertilisers during soil crisis, and could play a role in delivering essential negative emissions energy.
For industry players to fully optimise their AD processes and produce enough biogas that could be turned into energy, it is important that their plant is equipped with the right tools. For example, a fixed gas analyser can provide helpful analysis of the quality and consistency of biogas produced before feeding into a generator.
This improves digester operation and maximises methane production. Beyond that, the equipment will also assist with process control, which can help protect CHP engines from hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and moisture damage. As a result, biomethane can be produced efficiently, boosting renewable energy production targets.
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