Author: Will Gardiner

The UK is the leader the world needs to tackle climate change

Snow on mountains near Cruachan Power Station, Scotland

December 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. It represented a landmark moment in the global effort to combat climate change and build a better future. However, global progress is not moving at the speed it needs to in order to meet the treaty’s target of keeping global warming below 1.5-2 degrees Celsius.

Countries have set their own decarbonisation targets and many companies have laid out plans to become carbon neutral or even carbon negative – as we at Drax intend to achieve by 2030. While these leading ambitions are important for the UK and the world to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, real action, polices and investment are needed at scale.

We have a clearer view of the path ahead than five years ago. We know from the recent 6th Carbon Budget that renewable energy, as well as carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) are essential for the UK to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In that detailed, 1,000-page report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) was clear that progress must be made immediately – the country as a whole must be 78% of the way there by 2035. By investing where it’s needed, the UK can lead the world in a whole new industry. One that may come to define the next century.

Leading the world in decarbonisation

It was a combination of resource and ingenuity that enabled the UK to launch the Industrial Revolution some 250 years ago. Today the country is in a similar position of being able to inspire and help transform the world.

As a country – one that I moved to over 20 years ago now – we have decarbonised at a greater pace than any other over the past decade. Investing in renewable generation such as wind, solar and biomass has allowed the UK to transform its energy systems and set ambitious targets for net zero emissions.

To remain resilient and meet the increased electricity demand of the future, power grids will require vastly increased support from energy storage systems such as pumped hydro – as well as flexible, reliable forms of low and zero carbon power generation.

However, the urgency of climate change means the UK must go beyond decarbonisation to implementing negative emissions technologies (which remove more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than they emit). The CCC, as well as National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios report have emphasised the necessity of negative emissions for the UK to reach net zero, by removing CO2 not just from energy but other industries too.

The UK can build on its global leadership in decarbonisation to invest in the cutting-edge green technology that can take the country to net zero, establishing it as a world leader for others to follow.

Creating an industry, exporting it to the world

When the Paris agreement was signed, I was just joining Drax. I had been impressed by the power station’s transformation from coal to biomass – Europe’s largest decarbonisation project – supporting thousands of jobs in the process.

Five years on and I’m excited for the next stage: delivering negative emissions. By deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) we can permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere while producing renewable electricity.

Drax has successfully piloted BECCS and is ready to deploy it at scale as part of our Zero Carbon Humber partnership.

I’m confident the partnership with other leading energy, industrial and academic organisations can act as a revitalising force in a region that has historically been under-invested in, protect 55,000 jobs and create 50,000 new opportunities.

Developing the supply chain surrounding a world-leading zero-carbon cluster in the Humber could deliver a £3.2 billion economic boost to the wider economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I believe we can establish a new industry to export globally. The Humber’s ports have a long history of trade and we can build on this legacy. The machinery, equipment and services needed to develop BECCS and Zero Carbon Humber will be an essential export as the rest of the world races to decarbonise.

Unloading sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station from a vessel at the port of Immingham

Unloading sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station from a vessel at the port of Immingham

By providing training and partnering with educational institutions we can increase scientific and technical skills. Net zero industrial clusters can enable more in society the opportunity to have rewarding and fulfilling engineering, energy and environmental careers.

This model can reach around the world – positioning people and businesses to help countries to reach the collective goals of Paris Agreements.

The economic benefits for such achievements far outweigh the costs of failing to stem global warming and we are ready to invest in the technologies needed to do so. With robust government policies in place, a net zero future could cost as little as 1% of GDP over the next 30 years.

Countering climate change is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for the world, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a sustainable future with sustainable jobs, improved standards of living, health and wellbeing. The UK has a responsibility to use its expertise and resources, setting in place the structures that can allow companies like mine – Drax – to lead the world to reaching the Paris Agreement’s targets and beyond.

Find out how our cutting-edge carbon removal technologies will help the UK, and the world, hit net zero. Explore the future here.

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.

In a crisis people come first

This crisis will be remembered for many things. Many are not positive, but some are inspiring. Around the world we’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness and witnessed remarkable resilience from people continuing to live, work and to support one another. The actions we are all taking as individuals, businesses and communities will not only help us get through this crisis, they will shape how we emerge from it.

At Drax we are proud of the ongoing role we’re playing in supporting the UK and its essential services, continuing to generate and supply the electricity needed to keep people healthy and the economy running.

It is what we have always done, and it is what we will continue to do.

This is possible because our people have continued to carry out their important work in these uncertain times safely and responsibly. My leadership team in the UK and US must continue to support them, and we must also support the communities they are a part of.

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Our communities are at the core of what we do and who we are. They support our business globally and enable us to supply energy to the country. We have a responsibility to do what we can to help them through this crisis.

To do this we have put together a Covid-19 support package totalling more than three quarters of a million pounds that goes beyond just financing to make a positive impact. I’d like to highlight a few of these.

Supporting communities in Great Britain and the US

The Robinson family collect their laptop at Selby Community Primary School

The closures of schools and the need to turn homes into classrooms has been one of the biggest changes for many families. With children now depending on technology and the internet for schooling, there’s a very real chance those without access may fall behind, with a long term negative impact on their education.

We want to ensure no child is left out. So, we have donated £250,000 to buy 853 new laptops, each with three months of pre-paid internet access, and delivered them to schools and colleges local to our sites across the UK.

This has been implemented by Drax, working closely with headteachers. As one of our local heads Ian Clennan told us: “Schools don’t just provide education – they’re a whole support system. Having computers and internet access means pupils can keep in touch with their teachers and classmates more easily too – which is also incredibly important at the moment.”

In the US, we’re donating $30,000 to support hardship funds for the communities where we operate. Our colleagues in Louisiana are playing an active role in the community, and in Amite County, Mississippi, they have helped provide PPE to first responders as well as supporting charities for the families worse affected.

Helping businesses, starting with the most vulnerable

As an energy supplier to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), we must act with compassion and be ready to help those who are most economically exposed to the crisis. To do this, we are launching a number of initiatives to support businesses, starting with some of the most vulnerable.

It’s clear that care homes require extra support at this time. We are offering energy bill relief for more than 170 small care homes situated near our UK operations for the next two months, allowing them to divert funds to their other priorities such as PPE, food or carer accommodation.

But it is also important we understand how difficult a period this is for small businesses of all kinds. Many of our customers are facing financial pressure that was impossible to forecast. To help relieve this, we have agreed deferred payment plans with some of our customers who are unable to pay in full. We have also extended current energy prices for three months for 4,000 customers of Opus Energy who have not been able to secure a new contract during this period.

The impact of this crisis will be long term, so we made a significant, two-year charitable donation to Business Debtline. A dedicated phoneline and webpage will be provided to our small businesses customers, offering free debt advice and helping them to recover for the future.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO<sub>2</sub> removal of between 90-95%.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO2 removal of between 90-95%.

Change for the future recovery

While there is still uncertainty around how the UK, the US and the world will emerge from the pandemic it is the responsibility of the whole energy industry to show compassion for its customers and to take the actions needed to soften the economic blow that Covid-19 is having across the globe.

The disruption to normal life caused by the pandemic has changed how the country uses electricity overnight. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a more in-depth view from Electric Insights showing exactly what effect this has had and what it might reveal for the future of energy.

No matter what that future holds, however, we will remain committed to enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future. This will mean not only supporting our people, our communities and our countries through the coronavirus crisis, but striving for a bright and optimistic future beyond it. A future where people’s immediate health, safety and economic wellbeing are prioritised alongside solutions to another crisis – that of climate change.

Responsibility, wellbeing and trust during the COVID-19 outbreak

Engineers in PPE working at Drax Power Station

We are living through unprecedented times. Coronavirus is having far reaching effects on all industries not just here in the UK, but around the world. At Drax, we take our responsibilities as a member of critical national infrastructure and as an essential service provider very seriously. We are committed to maintaining a continuous, stable and reliable electricity supply for millions of homes and businesses in the UK.

The wellbeing of our people

Firstly, I’d like to thank our employees, contractors, supply chain workers and their families as well as the communities in the UK and US in which we operate, for their fantastic support and continued hard work during these difficult and uncertain times. Our employees’ health and wellbeing are vital, and we’re working hard to ensure we are supporting them with both their physical and mental health, whether working at home or at one of our sites.

Engineer maintaining equipment in Drax Power Station

Engineer maintaining equipment in Drax Power Station [Click to view/download]

Across all our sites we are have implemented strategies to reduce the chances of people spreading the virus and have operational plans in place to ensure continued delivery of power into the grid.

Power station resilience

At Drax Power Station, the UK’s largest power station, largest decarbonisation project in Europe and biggest source of renewable power into the national grid, we have arranged for the separation of key operational teams and employees so that they are physically distanced from each other. We have moved as many employees as possible to work from home, so that there are fewer people in our workplaces reducing the risk of the spread of infection, should it arise. We have strict controls on visitors to the site and on our contractors and suppliers. Our resilience teams are working well and we have contingency plans in place to manage risks associated with colleague absences.

We have closed the visitor centres at Cruachan pumped storage hydro power station and Tongland hydro power station in Scotland, as well as at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire. We have also stopped all but critically important travel between our sites.

Our supply chain

Sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station unloaded from the Zheng Zhi bulk carrier at ABP Immingham [Click to view/download]

It is vital we maintain a resilient supply chain for the sustainably sourced biomass wood pellets required to produce electricity at Drax Power Station, the country’s largest power station. We’re working closely with our suppliers in the US and Europe to maintain biomass supplies as well as with rail and port infrastructure in the US and UK to ensure continuity of supply.

Just last week Associated British Ports (ABP) and Drax received and unloaded the largest ever shipment of sustainable biomass to arrive at the Port of Immingham in the UK’s Humber region. The vessel transported 63,907 tonnes of Drax’s wood pellets from the US Port of Greater Baton Rouge in Louisiana. The consignment supplies Drax Power Station with enough renewable fuel to generate electricity for 1.3 million homes.

Our three wood pellet manufacturing plants are running well, with US authorities classifying our employees as key workers. The same is the case for our rail freight partners on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, GB Railfreight recognises the strategic importance of biomass deliveries to Drax Power Station.

Our customers

Businesses – both large and small – are feeling the economic effects of this virus. Our employees involved with the supply of electricity, gas and energy services to organisations are working hard to support them. More information can be found via these links:

We are working closely with BEIS, HM Treasury and our trade associations to explore how government and industry can further support business through this challenging time. Organisations facing financial difficultly can access the unprecedented level of support already announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak via:

Drax employee in high visibility clothing on the telephone

Drax employee in high visibility clothing on the telephone [Click to view/download]

Leadership

Our Executive Committee is meeting regularly via video conference to discuss our contingency planning as the situation changes. We are working closely with the UK, US state and Canadian governments, National Grid and Ofgem to ensure that we remain up to date with the latest advice and that we are prepared for any further escalation.

This is an unprecedented time for the UK and the world. Rest assured that Drax’s critical national infrastructure and essential service operations, as well as its employees, are working hard 24/7 to make sure individuals, families, businesses and organisations are supplied with the vital electricity needed to keep the country running.

Letter from Will Gardiner to the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass

Dear John, 

Thank you for your letter of the 9 January, detailing the findings and recommendations from the first meeting of the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass.

I want to begin by reiterating how important the work of the IAB is to Drax’s purpose and ambition. As you know, we recently announced our intention to become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030 by scaling up our pioneering biomass with CCS (BECCS) pilot project. This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use makes a positive contribution to our climate, the environment and the communities in which we operate. To that end, both you and the IAB will play a vital role by guiding us on our sourcing choices and challenging us to be as sustainable and transparent as we can be.

I enjoyed meeting with the IAB and hearing your conclusions from the first meeting. I am also pleased to hear from my team that the longer discussions were useful and constructive. Please pass on my thanks to all the members of the IAB for their time and consideration.

In particular, I am grateful for their consideration of our new sustainable biomass sourcing policy and the insight and recommendations that were given. I am pleased to hear that you agree our policy is an accurate representation of the criteria laid down in the Forest Research report.

I agree that a key topic for us to explore is how science can be further developed with regards the use of small, early thinnings and small roundwood. I also agree that understanding the counter factuals in the usage of wood that has come to us is important. This is an area we have, and continue to, explore, and I would refer the IAB to a report we have published subsequent to the meeting, “Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends (2019)”– which contains an independent analysis of the impact of our sourcing at our Amite pellet mill in Mississippi. The team look forward to discussing this with you at a future meeting and receiving your input to shape the next phases of this work.

I also agree the need to continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light, as well as ensure that the current policy is embedded into our operations. For that reason, our policy will be kept under regular review to accommodate changes in science and new evidence as it emerges. We have also committed to advancing scientific research in the areas applicable to our operations through partnerships with academic institutions and direct support for academic research.

With regards your suggestion of a restatement of the academic evidence on biomass sustainability, we shall give this interesting approach due consideration. I do believe that better alignment through a shared understanding of the evidence among the academic community, environmental groups, policy makers and industry would be a welcome development and would be grateful to the IAB for its further consideration of how this might be achieved.

I will also raise your considerations regarding the Sustainable Biomass Program (SPB) in my position a member of the SPB Board. You are correct that our new policy goes beyond SBP, and so an important work programme for us is how we demonstrate we are meeting the new policy.

Lastly, I welcome the addition of two interim telephone calls which will help to keep momentum between the half yearly meetings and will support us as we develop our policy, research and implementation projects further. Thank you for this commitment.

As the work of the IAB progresses, I look forward to hearing how you believe Drax can best build the evidence required to demonstrate that we are sourcing according to the best available science. As the world’s largest biomass consumer it is important that we lead by example. This means not only having a world leading biomass sustainability policy in place, but also the data and evidence available to give all our stakeholders the confidence that we are fulfilling our purpose of enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.

Thank you once again for your participation and expertise.

Yours,

 

 

 

 

 

Will Gardiner

Group CEO

View/download the PDF version here

Will Gardiner’s Drax carbon negative ambition remarks at COP25

Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid

Thank you very much Nick, it’s a pleasure to be here in Madrid. My name is Will Gardiner and I am the CEO of the Drax Group. We have been proud members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance for a year now, but our journey beyond coal began more than a decade ago, when we realised that we had a responsibility to our communities, our shareholders and our colleagues to be part of the solution to the escalating climate crisis.

And so at Drax we did something that many believed wasn’t possible and began to replace coal generation with sustainable, renewable biomass.

With the right support and commitment from successive UK ministers, and through the ingenuity of our people, within a decade we transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project and its biggest source of renewable power – generating 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity last year while reducing our carbon emissions by more than 80% since 2012.

We have reduced our emissions, we believe, more than any other energy company in the world and we have enabled a just transition for thousands of UK workers who began their career in coal but will end it by producing renewable, flexible and low carbon power for 13 million British homes.

But as the climate crisis intensifies and the clock counts down, we can’t stand still. So today I am pleased to share our new ambition: to move beyond carbon neutrality, to achieve something that nobody has before, and become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030.

By applying carbon capture and storage technology to our bioenergy generation we can become the first company in the world to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we produce, while continuing to produce about 5% of the UK’s overall electricity needs.

As the IPCC and UK government’s Committee on Climate Change make clear – negative emissions are vital if we are to limit the earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

At Drax we can be the first company to produce negative emissions at scale, helping to arrest climate change and redefining what is possible in the transition beyond coal.

If we are to defeat the climate crisis we must do it in a way that unlocks jobs and economic growth, unleashes entrepreneurial spirit and leaves nobody behind. The UK is unrivalled in decarbonising in this way. We are second to none in deploying renewables like offshore wind and bioenergy, which have transformed lives and our post-industrial communities.

We need to apply a similar framework to Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage as made offshore wind so successful. Fundamentally, an effective strategic partnership of government and the private sector was critical. The government provided support and an effective carbon tax regime. With confidence in that regulatory framework, many businesses provided investment and innovation. As a result, offshore wind has grown from less than 600 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2008 to more than 8,000 MW in 2018 — an increase of more than 13 times in 10 years to produce 7.5% of the UK’s electricity.

At the same time, the cost of that electricity has declined from £114/MWh in 2015 to £39/MWh in 2019, the latter being a cost that will make offshore wind viable without subsidy. With government support and an effective regulatory regime to give the private sector the confidence to invest and innovate, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage will trace that same path. At the same time, investing in this technology will both save lots of existing jobs and create many next generation green technology jobs.

That is why we have founded, along with Equinor and National Grid, Zero Carbon Humber, to work with the government to bring carbon capture and storage infrastructure to the northeast of the UK. We can save 55,000 existing heavy industry jobs, while capturing as much as 30 million tons of CO2 per year. At the same time we will create a new industry and also the infrastructure for a new hydrogen economy to take our decarbonisation further.

By creating the right conditions for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage to flourish, Britain can continue to benefit – socially, economically and environmentally from being at the vanguard of the fight against climate change.

And at the same time, it is our ambition at Drax to play a major role in that fight by becoming the first carbon negative company.

Thank you

Read the press release: Drax sets world-first ambition to become carbon negative by 2030

Photo caption: Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid. Click to view/download.

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.

Laying down the pathway to carbon capture in a net zero UK

Humber bridge

The starting gun has fired and the challenge is underway. The government has officially set 2050 as the target year in which the UK will achieve carbon neutrality.

There’s no denying this economy-wide transformation will need a great deal of investment. Reaching net zero carbon emissions will require an evolutionary overhaul of not just Great Britain’s electricity system but the UK economy as a whole. And indeed, the way we live our lives and go about our business.

But that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. Instead it will fall to technologies such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), as well as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), to make it economical and possible.

The secret to making decarbonisation affordable

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimates the price of decarbonisation will cost as little as 1% of forecast GDP per annum in 2050.

However, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee inquiry found that failure to deploy CCUS and BECCS technology could double the cost to 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the cost to jobs, productivity and living standards of shutting down industrial emitters. CCUS’s ability to contribute to a hydrogen economy can help avoid this.

Moreover, the CCC claims even with industries striving to decarbonise rapidly, as much as 100 megatonnes of hard-to-abate carbon dioxide (CO2) is expected to remain in the UK economy by 2050.

This makes carbon negative techniques and technologies, such as BECCS – which uses woody biomass that has absorbed carbon in its lifetime as forests – alongside direct air capture (DAC), the boosting of ocean plant productivity, much greater tree planting and better sequestration of carbon in soil, essential if the UK is to attain true carbon neutrality.

The importance of BECCS and CCUS in the zero carbon future is clear. Now is the time for rapid development. Not in 2030, not in 2040, but today in 2019 and into the 2020s.

But doing this requires the government to move beyond its historic policies that have failed to support the technology in the past. Progress needs long-term frameworks that provide private sector investors with the certainty they need to kick-start the commercial-scale deployment of CCUS technologies.

Laying down the tracks to negative emissions  

For carbon capture to become an integrated part of the energy system it must deliver value well beyond the energy sector. Establishing markets for products developed from captured carbon will play a role here, but to set the wheels in motion, financial frameworks are needed that can allow BECCS and CCUS to thrive.

One device that can allow the market to develop CCUS is the creation of contracts for difference (CfDs) for carbon capture. These currently exist in the low-carbon generation space, between generators and the government-owned Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC). Through these contracts, power generators are paid the difference between their cost of generating low carbon electricity (known as a strike price) and the price of electricity in Great Britain’s wholesale power market. If the power price in the market is higher than the strike price generators pay the difference back to the LCCC, meaning consumers are protected from price spikes too.

It means that the generator is protected from market volatility or big drops in the wholesale price of power, offering the security to invest in new technology. More than this, CfDs last many years meaning they transcend political cycles and the cost per megawatt can be reduced with a longer contract. Creating a market for carbon capture or negative emissions generation could offer the same security to generators to invest in the technology.

A CfD for BECCS should not only incentivise the building of infrastructure to capture carbon, but we must also recognise the valuable role that negative emissions can play. By compensating BECCS producers for their negative emissions, it should provide a lower cost alternative to reducing all other CO2 emissions to zero, while still ensuring that the UK can get to net zero.

Beyond installing carbon capture at existing generation sites, one of the major financial barriers to the wider deployment of CCUS and BECCS is the cost and liability associated with transporting and storing captured carbon.

A Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model, would encourage investment by gradually recovering the costs of transport and storage via a regulated return. This approach is currently under consideration as a means of financing other major infrastructure projects.

A RAB allows businesses, including investment and pension funds, to invest in projects under the oversight of a government regulator. In exchange for their commitment, investors can collect a fee through regular consumer and non-domestic bills.

Led by industry; guided by government

Ultimately, the current carbon trading system is based around charging polluters. But as we approach a post-coal UK and in order to achieve net zero, it’s necessary for this to evolve – from economically disincentivising emissions to incentivising carbon-negative power generation.

However, with the cost of carbon capture and negative emissions differing between types of industries and technologies, there’s a requirement to consider differentiated carbon prices to guide industry through long-term strategy. But the need for carbon capture development is too pressing for us as an industry to wait.

At Drax Power Station our BECCS pilot is just the beginning of our wider ambitions to become the first negative emissions power station. Our use of biomass already makes Drax Power Station the largest generator of renewable electricity in Great Britain. The responsibly-managed working forests our suppliers source from absorbed carbon from the atmosphere as they grew so adding carbon capture at scale to this supply chain can turn our operation from low carbon, to carbon-neutral and eventually carbon negative.

And we have bigger plans still to create a net zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region, in partnership with Equinor and National Grid. The cluster would deliver carbon capture at the scale needed to not just decarbonise the most carbon-intensive industrial region in the UK, but to put the country at the forefront of the decarbonisation of industry and manufacturing.

Government action is needed to make CCUS and BECCS economically sustainable at scale as an integrated part of our energy system. However, the onus is on us, the energy industry to lead development and act as trusted partners that can deliver the decarbonisation needed to reach net zero carbon by 2050.

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

The roadmap to zero carbon

The UK has come a long way in its efforts to decarbonise. Greenhouse gas emissions last year were 43% below 1990 levels, while increasing renewable electricity generation and a strengthening carbon price means the country could soon go coal-free for an entire summer.

There is still, however, much work needed to reach the UK target of reducing emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050 and meeting the Paris Agreement’s aim of keeping temperature increases below two degrees Celsius. As ambitious as these goals may be, recent research by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) believes they can be met by 2050, with the right government policies and action from businesses.

To help to mitigate man made climate change, all industries, across all sectors must cut carbon emissions. It’s a big challenge but a clear first step must be the decarbonisation of electricity generation. This step will enable other industries to reduce their emissions in turn through electrification.

Since 2000 we have been building our experience in decarbonising electrical generation, transforming what was once Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power station into the UK’s biggest decarbonisation project. This puts us in a unique position to offer the leadership and innovation needed – across the electricity industry and other sectors – to reach a zero-carbon world.

Electricity generation will lead decarbonisation

The electrification of carbon-intensive sectors, such as transport and heating, will only contribute to reducing overall emissions if the electricity comes from mostly low or zero-carbon sources.

The ETC’s research suggests wind and solar will be capable of providing 85% of the world’s electricity generation by 2050. When these intermittent sources are unable to generate electricity the remaining 15% will come from a combination of nuclear, hydro, biomass and storage (including batteries, pumped storage and new technologies).

In fact, biomass alone could provide as much as half of that 15% but it is critical that this flexible, renewable, low carbon fuel must be sustainably sourced. For the wood biomass we use at Drax Power Station, its sourcing should contribute to growing and healthy forests, which will be another key part of the climate change solution.

Will Gardiner, CEO, Drax Group

At Drax, we have a long history of finding ways to cut emissions and improve the efficiency of our own biomass pellet supply chain, from bigger ships to more efficient rail freight loading and unloading.

The skills and experiences gained from these efforts serve not only to decarbonise our business but will benefit other supply chain-based industries along the path to lower-carbon emissions. More than this, it is far from the only way we are working towards doing this.

From here to zero-carbon

One of the biggest hopes for removing carbon from industry lies in carbon capture and storage. We’re leading the charge on bringing this technology to the fore by running a six-month pilot of a Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) system, which will capture a tonne of carbon every day from one of our four, 600+ megawatt (MW) biomass units.

Capturing emissions not only further reduces the carbon intensiveness of electricity generators of all kinds, but also opens new revenue streams for businesses through utilising captured carbon. For Drax, BECCS takes us another step towards becoming a carbon negative operation, where we remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. It is also an opportunity to further expand the knowledge and experience of our team and become leading experts in a field which will be essential in meeting climate change goals.

Alongside this, our plans to repower the last of our coal-fired units to highly-efficient combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and build four, rapid-response open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) will give the electricity system the flexibility needed to support more intermittent renewable sources. The abilities of gas plant in balancing and system services can help to complete the journey away from coal before 2025. In subsequent decades, gas can play a pivotal role assisting the transition to a zero-carbon power system.

Our retail businesses, Haven Power and Opus Energy, also allow us to help companies and the public sector outside of electricity generation to reduce their carbon footprint. Beyond just supplying renewable electricity, we’re also looking at ways through closer customer partnerships to help businesses leverage new technologies to use electricity more efficiently and in turn lower their costs.

Reaching a zero-carbon future is a monumental task for electricity producers that depends on innovative thinking and new technologies. We have the experience in developing transformative ideas and making them a reality – all of which will be essential in guiding us into a brighter, more stable, decarbonised future.