Tag: biomass energy

North Yorkshire tops chart for renewable energy

A new survey from the Green Alliance and Regen SW shows that Selby in North Yorkshire produces the most renewable energy of any area in England and Wales. As you can see, Drax’s home tops the chart by a large margin.

That’s because between three and four per cent of the UK’s electricity is generated from sustainable biomass here at Drax power station.

We’ve already converted half the station to use compressed wood pellets. That half of Drax has reduced its carbon emissions by more than 80 per cent as a result.

But there’s so much more Drax could do to help the UK get more coal off the grid. And if the Green Alliance’s next data visualization pitted renewables against fossil fuels, a renewable-only Drax as our country’s biggest power station would give low carbon technologies an even bigger share than would be the case today.

Drax can not only generate more renewable power ourselves, but also help solar and wind power to cope with demand as some of the older coal, gas and nuclear plant retire over the coming years.

Moving towards a balanced mix of renewables including further biomass upgrades at Drax could save bill payers billions of pounds found research carried out by NERA and Imperial College London.

This was commissioned by Drax to establish the ‘true’ cost of the main forms of renewable energy – wind, solar and biomass.

The UK is already far below the European average when it comes to using wood for energy.

If the government made the right decision and levelled the playing field for biomass in the UK, Drax could help our country climb the table, meet our national climate change targets more quickly and contribute to saving bill payers billions of pounds. Upgrading from coal to wood pellets is also ensuring Drax Group – which employs more than 1,400 people – has a real future at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.

However it’s not just for government to change the status quo – businesses have a role to play too. Many UK businesses have made firm commitments to limit and reduce their impact on the environment. For all, their use of energy is a critical area to consider and address. Some of the biggest electricity users such as Thames Water and Manchester Airport Group are increasingly demanding renewable electricity. Drax Group’s Haven Power is proud to offer the only 100% guaranteed renewable electricity product in the market to businesses big and small.

Perhaps that’s what the Green Alliance’s next index could investigate – which businesses have taken practical steps towards a renewable future.

Renewables: better together

There’s more pressure than ever to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. And no one is keener than the team here at Drax Power Station to make it happen. In fact, we’ve been doing it for a decade. But we need the right support to finish the job.

  • We upgraded our turbines between 2007-12 to save one million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
  • We’ve converted half our station to run on compressed wood pellets instead of coal – reducing emissions by up to 86 per cent.
  • Our friends in the North of England have invested millions of pounds to help us make that happen, through building new infrastructure at our landing and loading facilities at the Port of Tyne, the new port at Liverpool, at Hull and at Immingham.
  • We’ve designed and commissioned our own rolling stock with Lloyds Register Rail to ensure that the compressed wood pellets can be transported to the power station in the most energy-efficient way possible.

And while many jobs in the North of England are being lost with the planned closure of a number of older coal-fired power stations, we continue to employ over a thousand people directly here in North Yorkshire.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that Drax is a genuine Northern Powerhouse, to borrow a phrase from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Which is why we hope he and his colleagues in Government will listen when we say that we’re seriously concerned that the planned auctions for new green energy could result in bill payers missing out on savings of over £2 billion.

The Government has committed to three further renewable energy auctions that will happen over the next few years. The first of them is already planned for later in 2016.

As far as we know, those auctions will only be open to offshore wind and perhaps also something being referred to as ‘less established technologies’.

But independent research published by NERA and Imperial College London suggests that a ‘single technology’ approach could waste a significant amount of money.

The research was commissioned by Drax to establish the ‘true’ cost of the main renewable energy technologies – wind, solar and biomass.

As a result, economists conclude that hard working families and businesses could enjoy significant savings if these auctions were opened up to include other renewables.

But the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. This makes wind and solar intermittent energy technologies. Backup power is needed when the weather’s not right or when demand is high.

Naturally, this standby energy isn’t free. Someone has to pay for it.

But those additional costs are not currently included in the way that the Government calculates how much support the different kinds of renewable energy require.

And the ICL/NERA research shows that when the true costs are added in, offshore wind is actually the most expensive form of renewable energy.

The affordable solution is to convert existing power stations to use compressed wood pellets in place of coal. This balanced approach also allows more offshore wind and solar onto our electricity network without the need for more fossil fuels to provide overall reliability. More biomass conversions can also help the UK end coal by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd’s 2025 target date.

That’s what we mean when we say Drax needs the right support to finish the job. We’re asking the Government to consider the true cost of bringing new renewable capacity on stream. And then to add sustainable biomass to the auctions for new contracts.

That decision could save bill payers up to £2bn. It could safeguard thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Yorkshire and the North of England. And it will give our country the reliable, renewable power we need when others just can’t deliver it.

The true cost of replacing coal-fired electricity generation

To make up for these closures, the Government is already planning to bring on new capacity. A new gas-fired power station will open at Carrington this summer, and we’re expecting to hear any day now that another nuclear power station will be created at Hinkley Point. And of course more electricity from renewables must be added over the years ahead as we look to meet our ‘go green’ targets.

In fact, the Government already has a plan in place to award contracts for new green energy off the back of three auctions over the next four years. The first of them is due later this year.

Drax understands that every one of those auctions is focused on offshore wind.

However, new independent research published by NERA Economic Consulting and Imperial College London questions that ‘single technology’ approach. 

Commissioned by Drax Group plc from leading economists, the research reveals the ‘true’ cost of the main forms of renewable energy – wind, solar and biomass.

And the evidence shows that opening up these auctions to include other renewables could result in significant savings that could be passed on to consumers. 

Where could these savings come from?

Renewables like wind and solar are vital, but they are by their very nature intermittent. That means other forms of power generation need to be available on standby at very short notice to meet the gap between supply and demand.

The costs of providing this standby electricity are passed on to consumers in their energy bills.

But crucially, they are not reflected in how the Government ranks the support that each type of renewable energy requires. Essentially the costs are hidden.

The NERA/ICL research shows that if these ‘hidden costs’ are added in, the true picture is very different.

When the true costs are taken into account, the Government’s preferred option – offshore wind – turns out to be the most expensive. In fact, the cheapest option is deploying new technology to existing power stations, enabling them to use biomass – essentially replacing coal with compressed wood pellets.

All in all, getting cheaper renewables into the mix could save consumers up to £2.2bn. How? Support for renewables is already funded through a portion of your energy bill, and bringing in a more cost-effective mix reduces the support needed.

That is why we at Drax are urging the Government to look at the true costs of new renewable capacity and include us in the mix for new power contracts.

To do so would not only lead to a potential £2bn saving for consumers, but replacing more coal with biomass gives the UK that reliable standby power we know we will need when other renewables can’t deliver it.

Using the latest technology we’ve already upgraded half of our Power Station to run on compressed wood pellets. The job’s not done. With the right support we want to carry on with the work we’re doing and help the Government to achieve its target of getting coal off the system by 2025.

How to plug the electricity gap

By 2025, the UK will face a 40-55 per cent gap between electricity supply and demand, according to a report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The government has disputed IMechE’s projection but its own forecasting suggests that UK electricity demand will be 19% higher in 2035 vs. 2015.

The alleged 2025 gap will be caused by the closure of coal-fired power stations to meet targets for carbon reduction. According to the IMechE, current plans to plug the gap by building new gas-fired capacity are unrealistic. (It would require a staggering 30 new power stations to be planned and built from scratch within the next 10 years.)

At Drax, we have already developed a solution. We can do it quickly, cheaply and safely. In fact, it would drastically reduce the time and money involved in building all of those 30 new gas power stations from scratch.

We’ve already adapted three of our coal-fired generating units to use high-density pellets made from compressed low-grade wood. And we’re using world-beating technology developed by our own engineers here in the UK to do it.

In all, around four or five per cent of the UK’s entire electricity needs every single day of the year are already being met thanks to our unique biomass technology at Drax. It’s an approach that could be adopted elsewhere in the country, providing a huge contribution to plugging the electricity gap.

Our high-density compressed wood pellets are the only non-fossil fuel that can bring about these changes in the time we have left.

Given the right support, within two or three years, we could convert the remaining three units at Drax power station to run on biomass wood pellets.

With all six units converted, plus Lynemouth power station – which already has that future secured – and one or two other, smaller biomass power stations, around 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity could be generated using this technology well before 2025 – long before new gas-fired capacity could come on stream.

The costs involved would be dramatically lower too. We invested around £650 million to convert three generating units, develop a supply chain and build new storage at Drax. It is estimated that the equivalent in new combined cycle gas turbine power stations would cost more as it would be new rather than repurposed infrastructure.

Energy hierarchy

The IMechE has developed an energy hierarchy, listing five sustainability-related priorities against which to judge any future energy strategy. The two that focus on energy generation are a perfect fit in terms of coal-to-biomass conversions at Drax and Lynemouth.

“Priority 3 – utilisation of renewable, sustainable resources”

High density compressed wood pellets are made from low-grade wood sourced according to the highest levels of forestry conservation.

“Priority 5 – utilisation of conventional resources as we do now”

Using world-leading engineering skills and avoiding the need to build brand new power stations, our coal units can be converted without the need for new National Grid connections.

Many of our European neighbours such as Sweden and Germany already use a far higher proportion of biomass to meet their energy needs. Catching up with the European average is the simplest, quickest and most affordable way to avoid a shortfall between supply and demand predicted by 2015.

Rethinking the UK’s future energy mix

Since the Climate Change Summit in Paris, there’s been a lot of talk about how we can remove coal from the energy mix in the UK and limit further climate change.

One way would be to close down all the coal-fired power stations. But coal still provides more than 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity. And the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) predicts we will need almost 20% more electricity by 2035, not less (chart, below). What’s more, building new capacity to replace those power stations would take years, while buying in extra supplies of energy at short notice can mean extra costs being passed on to customers.

The good news is that at Drax, we’ve already developed a solution to the challenge, as I told the Yorkshire Post recently.

We’re doing it by converting our coal-fired generating units to use compressed wood pellets. And we’re using world-beating technology developed by our own engineers here in the UK.

In fact, we’re now producing more electricity from wood pellets than from coal at Drax. And we’re doing it day in day out. In all, around four per cent of the UK’s entire electricity needs every single day of the year are now being met thanks to our unique biomass technology at Drax.

This enables us to take low-grade wood and compress it into small high-density pellets to use in our specially adapted generating units. Even including a minimal quantity of carbon emissions in the supply chain, conversions still cut greenhouse gases by over 80% compared to coal.

If we can get the support to convert the other three generating units at the power station then we’ll cease using coal at Drax. This would help the government’s proposed target date of ending unabated coal electricity generation in the UK by 2025.

I think at a very high level that support is there.

We all know that wind and solar energy have the potential to take a bigger role in Britain’s energy mix. But, to do so, they need to be accompanied by another technology that can be turned up to fill gaps when the weather means they produce less energy than required.

Our high-density wood pellets are the only non-fossil fuel that can do this. Looking to the future, as wind and solar grow and Britain becomes more dependent on them, it will be ever more important to have this reliable, renewable support on hand.

We’re well behind our European neighbours in using wood pellets for energy, and a long way behind countries like Germany and Sweden. Taking steps to catch up with the European average is the fastest, most affordable and most reliable way to move away from coal to the renewable fuels of the future. To take those steps, energy companies like Drax and the Government need more dialogue.