I was honoured to be able to accept the Excellence in Bioenergy award recently. Not for myself, but on behalf of all my colleagues at Drax who have worked so hard to make a reality of our shared plan to generate reliable, renewable electricity. Our achievements are truly a team effort.
In 2015, Drax became a predominantly biomass-fuelled power station.
We now generate more electricity at Drax power station from compressed low-grade wood pellets than from coal – between three and four per cent of the UK’s entire demand every day.
It’s a major triumph for all the brilliant engineers involved in converting the plant and everyone who has helped secure the incredibly complex supply chain that keeps it running.
But we truly believe that this is only the beginning for sustainable biomass.
Sustainable biomass is the ideal fuel to help the world decarbonise in an affordable and reliable way. It can support other renewables like wind and solar when the elements are against them and backup power is needed.
Because it can be created by upgrading existing coal-fired power stations, it can be added to the electricity grid in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost of building new power stations. Why should the UK only build brand-new gas and nuclear power stations when existing coal power stations can be upgraded to low carbon, renewable tech? At Drax, we have shown how engineers working at what once was the biggest coal power station in western Europe can use their expertise to work with compressed wood pellet power generation.
And it can save bill payers billions of pounds when the true costs of bringing other renewables on stream are taken into account.
The industry’s greatest challenge right now is in proving that all the biomass we use is truly sustainable.
At Drax we have proven the sustainability of the biomass we use time and time again. But we can and will do more to ensure that standards right across the industry are always equally high.
We cannot underestimate the importance of sustainability. No corners can be cut. We must all join together and meet this challenge. Because without sustainable biomass there will be no industry at all. Without sustainable biomass in a balanced energy system with other renewables and low carbon technologies, the Paris climate change summit commitments may not be reached.
This is why the Sustainable Biomass Program is so important. The SBP has developed a certification framework to provide assurance that woody biomass is sourced from legal and sustainable sources.
By working with the SBP, all of us in the industry alongside hard working families and businesses stand to benefit. Which is why all of us at Drax welcome its inception, and look forward to working with the SBP to help build a growing and healthy industry that helps our society transition to the renewable fuels of the future.
May 2017 update: the SBP has changed its name to the Sustainable Biomass Program — you can read its first annual report here.