Renewable technology is more than just solar and wind – a closer look at the alternatives
Last month, managing director of Smith Brothers, Dave Ogden, spoke to Electrical Engineering magazine to take a look at the various options available for sustainable connections – and the advantages of the alternatives. In case you missed it, you can catch up, below.
With the stark reality of climate change in greater focus than ever, there is still a long way for the UK to go before it meets its clean energy targets. Alongside wind and solar, demand for low-carbon power, Energy-from-Waste (EfW), biomass, tidal and battery storage is on the up.
Until recently, the main barriers for the adoption of renewable technology was the upfront set-up cost of clean energy vs. that of fossil fuels. However, in recent years, that initial outlay has declined significantly.
Thanks to the falling price of equipment, co-location of technologies, and investments by developers to upgrade from nominal power outputs to a greater, more efficient generator, are all helping the sector to flourish.
Turning waste into energy
One of the most popular alternatives to solar and wind is EfW – and the idea of turning redundant material into something other than landfill has more benefits than simply powering up a factory.
While EfW can utilise many materials, as a nation, we don’t currently have the infrastructure in place to handle the sheer volume of plastic waste we produce on a daily basis. And, The ENDS Report revealed that in 2019, the UK sent 24.3% of its 691,993 tonnes of plastic waste to Turkey.
When you consider that we’re paying per tonne for other countries to get rid of our rubbish, it’s clear to see why there are so many EfW streams coming into the UK – in a bid to pick up on the demand. Our own enquiry rate for such developments has rocketed from 0% to 5% of enquiries in the last few years alone.
We’re already working on several studies around where best to locate such sites – which need to be close enough to towns or transport links to make the recycling process carbon efficient, as well as a location near a network which has spare capacity.
Gone are the days where such developments were a ‘blot on the landscape’ too. These plants are being created in conjunction with some of the world’s leading architects, who look to create sympathetic, sustainable designs.
Building on biomass
In a similar vein, yet smaller scale, we’re seeing a resurgence in the popularity of fuel derived from manure, surplus crops, feathers – and even maggots.
Despite being one of the cheaper, by comparison, methods of green energy generation, such sustainable harvesting still only amounts for 10% of the world’s energy – possibly due to the amount of produce needed in order to operate effectively.
However, it’s an incredibly efficient way of reusing plant-derived materials, which would otherwise be left to decompose. Typically popular with farms and food producers, these <50MW sites are ideal for industries which generate a lot of on-site waste.
Moreover, such installations can benefit from a Private Purchase Agreement (PPA) whereby owners will generate energy for their own usage, and anything additional can be sold back to the network at a pre-agreed price.
Wave, tidal and storage
Although tidal and wave energy are still very much in the developmental phase, the consistency of the tides means such generation is a reliable resource. Unlike solar and wind, which rely on sunny or windy days for maximum efficiency.
This form of hydropower relies on the twice-daily tidal currents of our oceans and seas to drive turbine generators – and is something we expect to see a lot more of in the years to come. But, once clean energy has been generated – whether offshore on on-shore – there is a need to balance supply and demand.
This, in turn, has meant that battery sites are playing a rising part in the UK’s energy agenda. Such storage facilities are key to either correcting the grid via fast frequency response or picking up the network when needed. These huge power reserves are often co-located with a renewable energy resource, and can be ‘charged up’ at night, when demand is low, with the energy sold back into the grid at peak times.
So, what does it all mean?
As a global population, we are all trying to create a greener future for the generations to come – and that ambition comes with investing in the right infrastructure and technology to make our country more sustainable.
In that same vein, renewable energy solutions offer a natural progression in our power resources and are replacing the old, inefficient coal plants which are having a detrimental effect on the atmosphere. Since 2009, the UK has decarbonised its electricity grid more than any other country. Although much of this is as a result of coal being replaced by gas – with only a modest contribution coming from the renewable energy sector – the framework is in place to progress to a cleaner future. Watch this space. To find out more about our renewable energy capabilities, visit our dedicated web page.