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Energy from Waste

Background

Energy from Waste (EfW) is critical to achieving both waste and energy strategy goals. Energy generated from waste combustion and landfill gas contributes 1.5% of the UK's total electricity supply and nearly 30% of our renewable electricity.

But we could do more.  The Institution of Civil Engineers (2005) has estimated that energy recovered from residual waste could account for as much as 17% of total UK electricity consumption in 2020, even with 50% recycling rates.

In another report, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (2008) stated that "EfW, in its various formats [ie combustion, anaerobic digestion, etc] is the only renewable technology which can realistically meet the EU and UK 2020 commitments for heat and transport sector requirements, while at the same time also providing significant quantities of electric power."

If the heat from EfW facilities (currently an untapped resource) can also be harnessed, waste materials can contribute even more to the UK's renewable energy targets.

The Issues

EfW addresses key strategic goals across the Government's sustainable development agenda, yet there remains lack of momentum for energy from waste developments in the UK. A demonstrable lack of political support for planning applications is common. Outdated and incorrect perceptions surrounding the environmental and health impacts of modern energy from waste systems persist, despite evidence to the contrary; insufficient work is done to assuage this. In site-specific planning decisions, both local and national long-term interests are often poorly accounted for.

Residual waste could be valuably used as a secure, reliable and domestic energy resource without impinging on recycling activities. Technologies, systems and options to segregate recyclables from the waste stream exist.

Once facilities are operational, institutional barriers can be significant. Claiming Renewables Obligation Certificates has proved so challenging that few Energy from Waste facilities have succeeded, despite their contribution to renewable energy generation. The RHI has done little to address the main barriers to CHP – the capital costs of heat delivery infrastructure and the challenges in finding a suitable customer. The development of an end-of-waste position for incinerator bottom ash remains unfinished. Incinerator bottom ash is a sustainable source of competitively-priced, essentially inert aggregate that replaces primary aggregate extracted from quarries. Recycling incinerator bottom ash reduces usage of valuable landfill space and avoids the Landfill Tax liability.

ESA Policy Recommendations

  1. ESA calls on Government to recognise the role energy from waste can play in both waste and energy strategies and to make energy from waste a co-ordinated priority for both the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

  2. Government should take an active stance in correcting prevalent misconceptions about the potential role and environmental impact of energy from waste facilities.

  3. Government should engage with industry to review the planning application process and associated tensions to action improvements. A rational decision making process on planning applications that balances often silent, local and national interests is necessary.

  4. A clear process needs to be set out to gain Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets accreditation for fuel measurement and sampling to determine the energy generated from biomass in mixed waste fuel.

  5. Government must continue support for the development of the Incinerator Bottom Ash Quality Protocol.