« BackNews: UK Anaerobic Digester Sector Records 11% Annual Growth

UK Anaerobic Digester Sector Records 11% Annual Growth

The UK anaerobic digester (AD) sector grew by 11% in the year to April 2021, Farmers Weekly reports. The figures are according to the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC), which collects data on UK AD facilities.


Despite the pandemic restrictions, the figures show that 63 new plants became operational over the last year, bringing the total number of AD plants in the UK to 642. Of these 446 were fuelled by farm feedstocks, such as manure, slurry, crops and crop waste. The main feedstock was food waste, with usage up by 20.4% year on year.


Lucy Hopwood, lead consultant and director at NNFCC, told Farmers Weekly: “The increase was achieved in spite of bad weather and Covid-19 constraints during 2020. In April 2020, there were 47 plants under construction, with many commissioned before long-term government support schemes closed to applicants.”


She added: “Most had either Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) tariff guarantees or Feed-In Tariffs (FiTs) pre-accreditations. These schemes had been due to expire by March 2020 so construction deadlines were short. However, heavy rain in the early part of 2020 caused a backlog in construction and delays in commissioning.”


Ms Hopwood explained that the situation worsened as the Covid-19 pandemic hit, causing labour and supply difficulties for both plants under construction and those already operating.  However, the UK government has granted a 12-month grace period for FiTs projects that failed to meet the deadlines.


The growth forecast for the AD sector is not looking so promising over the coming year, with the number of projects in development dropping from 331 in April 2020 to 269 this year. The decline in numbers is thought to be due to the withdrawal of government incentive schemes. 


Ms Hopwood told the Farmers Weekly that although 49 of the new projects had progressed to the construction phase, a further 220 which were still in the planning phase were now unlikely to go ahead in any great numbers. 


Small-scale private power generation is thought to be less worth government incentives because of the success of other renewable energy schemes, such as solar, wind, and existing AD plants. As a result, farmers and other small to medium scale enterprises have seen the rate paid for each unit of power reduce in value or close completely.


The government is set to introduce the Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS) this autumn, which aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of the gas grid. According to the Ofgem website, the scheme will provide financial incentives for new anaerobic digestion biomethane plants to increase the proportion of green gas in the gas grid.


The scheme will be open to applications in England, Scotland, and Wales, for four years from autumn 2021. Participants will receive quarterly payments over a period of 15 years, based on the amount of eligible biomethane that is injected into the gas grid. 


Farmers Weekly predicts that the new financial incentives will be welcomed by the industry, and it will encourage the development of larger plants which are capable of producing biomethane that can be added to the grid.

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