Utility Week

UTILITY Week 2nd October 2015

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6 | 2ND - 8TH OCTOBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion Biomass is the green king Sustainable biomass makes Drax a renewables powerhouse for the UK. Chief executive's view Dorothy Thompson, CBE, Drax Group T he renewable energy industry has been through a tumultuous time in the past few years. Public concerns about energy prices and an increasingly vocal community of fossil fuel revivalists, uncon- vinced by "green" policies, have meant the sector is having to work extra hard to make its case. How the case is made is vital. The sector has to keep the public front of mind and respect what are legitimate concerns about the cost of living. However, it must also reflect reality and ensure that those who develop policy – and indeed those who make a living out of commenting on it – understand the backdrop against which the renewable energy sector operates and why it exists in the first place. Front and centre of the Drax Group is the UK's largest power station, which is responsible for generating 7-8 per cent of our electricity. During my time as chief executive, the business has transformed itself from the UK's biggest emitter of CO2 to Europe's largest decarbonisa- tion project. What is interest- ing is that the challenge we first sought to meet when we started this journey has barely changed – though it can very easily be forgotten. The UK needs to keep the lights on, and that requires gen- eration that can respond to the peaks and troughs of consumer and business demand. Further- more, the UK has legal targets to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared with 1990 lev- els by 2050 and to source 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It therefore needs to keep the lights on in an environmentally friendly way. The third element of what has become known as the "energy trilemma" is that we have a duty to deliver the above in the most affordable way pos- sible. It is on this third element that the anti-renewables lobby, drawing on concerns about the cost of living, has had its greatest impact in recent years, flippantly brushing aside the realities of the trilemma. Drax is proud that it can offer an answer to the trilemma because of its use of a renew- able technology that meets the demands of reliability, sustain- ability and cost effectiveness. We call it biomass – fuel made from low grade wood and resi- dues sourced from commercial forestry and timber processing operations, primarily in North America and Europe. Converting to burning bio- mass in place of coal ensures we continue to deliver power on demand, whenever it is needed. The conversions also allow us to use the existing power sta- tion and distribution network, meaning it is one of the cheap- est renewable energy sources we have available in the UK. A recent independent study by Frontier Economics showed that to replace Drax's three biomass- fired power units with offshore wind would cost between £2.5 billion and £3.4 billion. Decc has commissioned an independent study into "full system" costs – that is, the true end-to-end cost of renewable electricity gen- eration – and the sector eagerly awaits the results. Finally, the environmental credentials of sustainable bio- mass are impressive. Drax's conversion to biomass means our carbon emissions are 86 per cent less compared with coal and we saved our 20 millionth tonne of carbon this month. By the time we have converted half of the plant to run on biomass, due to be completed in 2016, we will be saving 12 million tonnes of carbon a year – the entire car- bon output of Britain's industrial process sector including cement, iron and steel production, or equivalent to taking more than three million cars off our roads. In the past few years the renewable energy debate has become heated and deeply politi- cal. Those renewable energy gen- erators – like Drax – that offer a clear answer to a real problem need to make sure we drag the debate kicking and screaming back to why we are here in the first place: the need for reliable, affordable, low-carbon energy. "Our view is that the UK can produce its own domestic biomass for secure, affordable and low-carbon energy and land could be made available without undermining food production, soil carbon stocks, local ecosystems or amenities." George Day, head of economic etrategy, Energy Technologies Institute. Day has authored a new ETI report, Enabling UK Biomass

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