Tag: communities

Supporting a circular economy in the forests

Every year in British Columbia, millions of tonnes of waste wood – known in the industry as slash – is burned by the side of the road.

Land managers are required by law to dispose of this waste wood – that includes leftover tree limbs and tops, and wood that is rotten, diseased and already fire damaged – to reduce the risks of wildfires and the spread of disease and pests.

The smoke from these fires is choking surrounding communities – sometimes “smoking out entire valleys,” air quality meteorologist from BC’s Environment Ministry Trina Orchard recently told iNFOnews.ca.

It also impacts the broader environment, releasing some 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, according to some early estimates.

Slash pile in British Columbia

Landfilling this waste material from logging operations isn’t an option as it would emit methane – a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more potent than CO2. So you can see why it ends up being burned.

In its Modernizing Forest Policy in BC, the government has already identified its intention to phase out the burning of this waste wood left over after harvesting operations and is working with suppliers and other companies to encourage the use of this fibre.

This is a very positive move as this material must come out of the forests to reduce the fuel load that can help wildfires grow and spread to the point where they can’t be controlled, let alone be extinguished.

The wildfire risk is real and growing. Each year more forests and land are destroyed by wildfire, impacting communities, nature, wildlife and the environment.

In the past two decades, wildfires burned two and a half times more land in BC than in the previous 50-year period. According to very early estimates, emissions from last year’s wildfires in the province released around 150 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to around 30 million cars on the road for a year.

Alan Knight at the log yard for Lavington Pellet Mill in British Columbia

During my recent trip to British Columbia in Canada, First Nations, foresters, academics, scientists and government officials all talked about the burning piles of waste wood left over after logging operations.

Rather than burning it, it would be far better, they say, to use more of this potential resource as a feedstock for pellets that can be used to generate renewable energy, while supporting local jobs across the forestry sector and helping bolster the resilience of Canada’s forests against wildfire.

I like this approach because it brings pragmatism and common sense to the debate over Canada’s forests from the very people who know the most about the landscape around them.

Burning it at the roadside is a waste of a resource that could be put to much better use in generating renewable electricity, displacing fossil fuels, and it highlights the positive role the bioenergy industry can play in enhancing the forests and supporting communities.

Drax is already using some of this waste wood – which I saw in the log yard for our Lavington Pellet mill in British Columbia. This waste wood comprises around 20% of our feedstock. The remaining 80% comes from sawmill residues like sawdust, chips and shavings.

Waste wood for pellets at Lavington Pellet Mill log yard

It’s clear to me that using this waste material that has little other use or market value to make our pellets is an invaluable opportunity to deliver real benefits for communities, jobs and the environment while supporting a sustainable circular economy in the forestry sector.

The jobs needed to build a net zero energy future

Many components are needed to tackle climate change and reach environmental milestones such as meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. One of those components is the right workforce, large enough and with the necessary skills and knowledge to take on the green energy jobs of a low-carbon future. In 2020, the renewable energy sector employed 11.5 million people around the world, but as the industry continues to expand that workforce will only grow.

Last year, a National Grid report found that in the UK alone, 120,000 jobs will need to be filled in the low-carbon energy sector by 2030, to meet the country’s climate objectives. That figure is expected to rise to 400,000 by 2050.  The UK energy sector as a whole currently supports 738,000 jobs and much of this workforce already has the skills needed for a low carbon society . Others can be reskilled and retrained, helping to bolster the future workforce by supporting employees through the green transition.

At a global level energy sector jobs are expected to increase from 18 million to 26 million by 2050. Jobs that will span the full energy spectrum; from researching and advising on low-carbon solutions to installing and implementing them.

Here are some of the roles that will be key to the low-carbon energy transformation:

A wind farm under construction off the English coast

Wind turbine technicians

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), wind power is this year set for a 17% increase in global energy generation compared to 2020, the biggest increase of any renewable power source. The IEA also forecasts that wind power will need to grow tenfold by 2050 if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. It’s not surprising, therefore, that wind turbine technicians – the professionals who install, inspect, maintain, and repair wind turbines – are in high demand. In the US, wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing job in the country – with 68% growth projected over the 2020-2030 period – to give just one example.

In the UK, many wind turbine technicians have a background in engineering or experience from the wider energy sector. Although there are wind turbine technician and maintenance courses available, they are not a prerequisite, and many employers offer apprenticeships and on-the-job training – smoothing the path for energy professionals to transition into the role.

Solar panel installers

Today, solar photovoltaic (solar PV) is the biggest global employer in renewable energy, accounting for 3.8 million jobs. The IEA also reported a 23% uptick in solar PV installations around the world in 2020. In the UK, there are currently 13.2 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity. Trade association Solar Energy UK predicts this will need to rise to at least 40 GW by 2030 if the UK is to succeed in becoming a net zero economy by 2050. The trade association believes this could see the creation of 13,000 new solar energy jobs.

Solar panel installers – who carry out the important job of installing and maintaining solar PV – are essential to a low-carbon future. Many solar panel installers in the UK come from a background in electrical installation or have transitioned from engineering. While there are training courses specifically designed for solar panel installers, they are not a necessity, particularly if you already have on-the-job experience in a relevant sector. This makes a move to becoming a solar panel installer relatively easy for someone already working in energy or with a mind for engineering.

Energy consultants

Businesses of all kinds must play a role in the transition to net zero. Organisations must be able to manage their energy use and begin switching to renewable sources. As professionals who advise companies on this process, renewable energy consultants are a key part of the green energy workforce. Aspects of the job include identifying how organisations use their electric assets and helping businesses optimise those assets to build responsiveness and flexibility into energy-intensive operations. The core responsibilities of a renewable energy consultant are to reduce a company’s environmental impact while helping the business reduce energy costs and identifying opportunities.

Carbon accountants

A growing number of businesses are setting targets for reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But that’s only possible if you can first determine what your GHG emissions are and where they come from, which is where the relatively young field of carbon accounting comes in. Through what is known as physical carbon accounting, companies can assess the emissions their activities generate, and where in the supply chain the emissions are occurring. This allows businesses to implement more accurate actions and be realistic in their timelines for reducing emissions.

On a wider scale, accurate carbon accounting will be crucial in certifying emissions reductions or abatement, as well as in the distribution of carbon credits or penalties as whole economies push towards net zero.

Battery technology researchers

Energy storage is essential to a low-carbon energy future.  The ability to store and release energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar will be crucial in meeting demand and balancing a renewables-driven grid. While many forms of energy storage already exist, developing electric batteries that can be deployed at scale is still a comparatively new and expanding area.

Global patenting activities in the field of batteries and other electricity storage increased at an annual rate of 14% –  four times faster than the average for technology – between 2005 and 2018. However, it’s estimated that to meet climate objectives, the world will need nearly 10,000 GW hours of battery and other electricity storage by 2040. This is 50 times the current level and research and innovation will be crucial to delivering bigger and more efficient batteries.

Farmers and foresters

How we use and manage land will be important in lowering carbon emissions and creating a sustainable future for people and the planet. Crops like corn, sugarcane, and soybean can serve as feedstock for biofuel and bioenergy, and farming by-products such as cow manure can be used in the development of biofuel.

Techniques adopted in the agricultural sector will also be important in optimising soil sequestration capabilities while ensuring it is nutrient-rich enough to grow food. These techniques include the use of biochar, a solid form of charcoal produced by heating biomass without oxygen. Research indicates that biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for centuries or longer. It also helps soil retain water and could contribute to reducing the use of fertilisers by making the soil more nutrient-dense.

Forests, meanwhile, provide material for industries like construction, the by-products from which can serve as feedstock for woody biomass, primarily in the shape of low-grade wood that would otherwise remain unused. Sustainably managed forests, such as those from which Drax sources its biomass, have two-fold importance. They both enable woody biomass for bioenergy and ensure CO2 is removed from the atmosphere as part of the natural carbon cycle.

Biofuel engineers and scientists

Farmers and foresters provide feedstock for biofuels, but it’s biofuel scientists and engineers who research, develop, and enhance them, opening the door to alternative fuels for vehicles, heating, and even jet engines.

According to the IEA, production of biofuel that can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels in the transport sector grew 6% in 2019. However, the organisation forecasts that production will need to increase 10% annually until 2030to be in line with Paris Agreement climate targets.

Scientific innovations that can help boost the production of biofuel around the world, therefore, continues to be vital. As is the work of biofuel engineers who assess and improve existing biofuel systems and develop new ones that can replace fossil fuels like petrol and diesel.

The wealth of knowledge around fuels in the oil and gas industries means there is ample opportunity for scientists and engineers who work with fossil fuels to bring their skills to crucial low-carbon roles.

Geologists

The overriding goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to “well below” 2 and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. This is an objective the IEA has said will be “virtually impossible” to fulfil without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. CCS entails capturing CO2 and transporting it for safe and permanent underground storage in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas fields, coal seams, and saline aquifers.

According to the Global CCS Institute, the world will need a 100-fold increase on the 27 CCS project currently in operation by 2050. Knowledge and research into rock types, formations, and reactivity will be important in helping identify sites deep underground that can be used for safe, permanent carbon storage, and sequestration. Skills and expertise gained in the oil and gas industries will allow professionals in these sectors to make the switch from careers in fossil fuel to roles that help power a net zero economy.  

Employees working at Drax Power Station

Chemists

The role of chemists is also vital to decarbonisation. Knowledge and research around CO2 is a potent force in the effort to reduce and remove it from the atmosphere.

Technologies like CCS, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECSS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) are based around such research. Carbon capture processes are chemical reactions between emissions streams and solvents, often based on amines, and GHGs. Understanding and controlling these processes makes chemistry a key component of delivering carbon capture at the scale needed to help meet climate targets.

Chemists’ role in decarbonisation is far from limited to carbon capture methods. From battery technology to reforestation, chemists’ understanding of the elements can help drive action against climate change.

Bringing together disciplines

Tackling climate change on the scale needed to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement depends on collaboration between industries, countries, and disciplines. Decarbonisation projects such as the UK’s East Coast Cluster, which encompasses both Zero Carbon Humber and Net Zero Teesside, fuse engineering and construction jobs with scientific and academic work.

Zero Carbon Humber, which brings together 12 organisations, including Drax, is expected to create as many as 47,800 jobs in the region by 2027. Among these are construction sector jobs for welders, pipefitters, machine installers and technicians. In addition, indirect jobs are predicted to be created across supply chains, from material manufacturing to the logistics of supporting a workforce.

Meeting climate challenges and delivering projects on the scale of Zero Carbon Humber, depends on creating an energy workforce that combines the knowledge of the past with the green energy skills of the future.

Drax’s apprenticeships have readied workers for the energy sector for decades, and will continue to do so as we build a low-carbon future. Options include four-year technical apprenticeships in mechanical, electrical, and control and instrumentation engineering. Getting on-the-job training and practical experience, apprentices receive a nationally recognised qualification, such as a BTEC or an NVQ Level 3, at the end of the programme.

Apprentices at Drax Power Station [2021]

The workforce needed to make low carbon societies a reality will be a diverse one – stretching from apprentices to experienced professionals with a background in traditional or renewable energy. It will also span every aspect of the renewable energy field, from the chemists and biofuel scientists who develop key technologies to the solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians who fit and maintain the necessary equipment.

The skills needed to take on these roles are already plentiful in the UK and around the world. Overcoming challenges on the road to net zero requires refocussing these existing talents, skills, and careers towards a new goal.

The jobs and careers supporting the UK’s net zero future

In October last year several of our employees, from policy managers to apprentices, took over the Energy UK Young Energy Professional (YEP) Forum’s Twitter account to share their experiences so far working in the energy industry and their roles at Drax. The YEP forum consists of a network of energy industry professionals with less than 10 years’ experience, and aims to provide them with opportunities to collaborate, develop and recognise successes. The following insights from employees at Drax show the importance of our workforce in achieving our ambition and what they have learnt so far about starting a career in the energy industry.

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

Meet Samuel, the apprentice

One of our technical apprentices, Samuel Plumb, explains why he decided to kick-start his career with a Drax apprenticeship plus what the selection process involves: “I applied for this role because it’s a mix of practical skills and problem-solving. Drax has a large site with a huge range of equipment and processes so no two days are the same. Working here appealed to me because I’m really interested in the power industry and Drax plays a key role in generation. I found out about this apprenticeship through online research, submitted an application, completed aptitude tests online, sat another aptitude test on-site and then eventually attended an interview.”

Meet Richard, the policy manager

Richard Gow explains that with the right policies in place, Drax could become a carbon negative power station, enabling a zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region. The Drax Group Policy and Government Relations Manager outlines how his role helps to develop the necessary frameworks: “I engage with policymakers, advisors and experts across the UK to understand the policy and political landscape and how this could impact Drax’s commercial objectives. The energy sector is at the forefront of decarbonisation and it’s exciting to be involved in developing policies and market frameworks to support this transition to net zero.”

By investing in bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), hydrogen and other green technologies in the Humber, industry can regain a competitive edge. New jobs can help to rejuvenate communities and the wider region, as evidenced by a recent report from Vivid Economics on the socio-economic benefits of BECCS. This investment at Drax supports the UK’s levelling up agenda and to Build Back Better, emphasising the need for the UK to have a skilled workforce to achieve net zero. Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group, has explained how our own ambitions will also boost our communities and local economies by “helping to create a cleaner environment for future generations whilst creating new jobs and export opportunities for British businesses.”

Noting that BECCS at Drax is not just limited to new engineering or technician roles, as a UK-US company, with sites from Selby to the Scottish Highlands to Louisiana and Mississippi in the US South, we continue to attain young professionals and apprentices across a wide-range of departments, including sustainable business and smart energy services.

Engineer below Cruachan Power Station dam

Engineer below Cruachan Power Station dam

Meet Emma, the renewables engagement officer

And at Drax we emphasise that now is the time for action to tackle climate change. Emma Persson, Renewables Engagement Officer, describes her motivations for joining the clean energy transition and how her role is helping to ensure the UK reaches its net zero target: “As a recent graduate with a Masters in energy and society, I wanted to work in the energy sector and be part of its real and current transition to mitigating climate change instead of contributing to it. This is an exciting time, and my part in this transformation involves stakeholder engagement and contributing to Drax’s climate policy to ensure we reach our carbon negative ambition.”

By developing talent within schools from a young age and inspiring students to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, Drax also encourages future career opportunities. We are proud to be working with a number of local schools and colleges, such as Selby College, with whom we recently signed a new five-year partnership. This shows our continued commitment to ensuring students of all ages are equipped with the skills needed to progress the UK’s cleaner energy future, while having a positive social impact on our local communities.

Mobilising a Million

Students from Selby College collect their laptops donated by Drax (April 2020)

We recently became the UK’s first energy company to announce an initiative to improve employability for a million people by 2025. Drax’s Opportunity Action Plan is in partnership with the Social Mobility Pledge, led by the former Education Secretary, the Rt Hon Justine Greening. Through our ‘Mobilising a Million’ initiative, we aim to connect with one million people by 2025, improving skills, education, employability and opportunity. This sets a new and higher standard for the levelling up agenda in Britain, with a wider focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues. Clare Harbord, Drax Group Director of Corporate Affairs, said of the initiative, “By boosting education, skills and employability opportunities for a million people, we can start to level the playing field and build a more diverse workforce. This will make the energy sector stronger and able to make a more significant contribution to the UK’s green recovery.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have also been using virtual resources to provide new ways of learning from home, delivering laptops for learners, and a new series of webinars titled ‘Drax in the Classroom’ as well as virtual work experience and tours of Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire and Cruachan in Scotland. Before the pandemic, we also hosted a number of inspiring careers events at Drax, including the ‘Women of the Future’. The event showcased the various opportunities available for young women, part of our continued efforts to increase diversity in our workforce and develop the future generation of energy professionals.

Learn more about careers at Drax and our current opportunities here.

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.

Listening to local communities

Over the course of the year, we held many meetings and outreach events with the communities living in proximity to our gas-fired power station projects, including:

  • Millbrook Power, Bedfordshire: 160 people attended public exhibitions hosted by Drax in the villages neighbouring the project: Marston Moretaine, Stewartby, Ampthill and Lidlington. We also held a series of briefings with local elected representatives and interest groups. The feedback we received helped to inform the application we subsequently submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.
  • Progress Power, Suffolk: We held two roundtables with local landowners and politicians in Eye Community Centre in July and October to introduce Drax Group and better understand the community’s perception of the project. Further roundtables will take place in 2018 to involve local people in the design of the power station and sub-station.
  • Repower project, Drax Power Station: 120 people attended informal consultation events in Selby Town Hall, Drax Sports and Social Club and Junction in Goole. The sessions provided an opportunity for the Drax project team to discuss our plans with the community and identify the key issues of interest to them, ahead of the formal statutory stage of public consultation taking place in Q1 2018.
  • Rapid-response gas plants in Wales: We worked with Rhondda Cynon Taf Country Borough Council to discharge our planning obligations in relation to the Hirwaun Power project. We also started meeting with local stakeholders ahead of our statutory consultation on the Abergelli Power project in 2018.