Oil, Water, and Waste…

Having spent New Year in Bergen, Norway, I can certainly see that not only is Norway blessed with oil supplies but they are also surrounded by the natural assets which make them a key player in Hydro and wind power. Nearly all the electricity generated in Norway is derived from hydroelectric power.

By 2012, 632 MW of wind power had been installed – almost exclusively on land and the world’s first floating wind turbine has been in operation 10km off the coast since 2009, with a capacity of 2.3 MW, in the scheme of things this not up near the top of the wind leader board but Norway is now utilizing the knowledge and experience from offshore oilfields and maritime operations for future offshore wind power development.

But to my surprise, despite of all these resources, there is large energy from waste plant in Bergen which is importing as much rubbish as it can get its hands on – and this is coming from across Europe. The Guardian (14.6.2013) reported the UK paying to send 45,000 tonnes of household waste from Bristol and Leeds to be burnt in the incinerator.

According to Pål Spillum, head of waste recovery at the Climate and Pollution Agency in Norway “Waste has become a commodity, there is a big European market for this, so much so that the Norwegians are accepting rubbish from other countries to feed the incinerator.”

The furnace co-generates electricity and heat/hot water that is connected to a district heat system. There are of course concerns of reduced recycling rates and monitoring what is being incinerated – is the UK as stringent in segregation of waste as Norway? Having just been there I would say, and maybe an unfounded generalisation, we are a touch more slapdash.

But it does make me wonder why the UK is not making more of this commodity. Locally Veolia is installing an incinerator in Shrewsbury, which will result in less material going to landfill but there have been rumours of the how the gate fee pricing structure and contract with Shropshire Council may make it favourable to incinerate material that could be recycled. Also at present the heat generated will be used to generate electricity and exported to the grid but no plans are in place for a district scale system to use the heat generated which seems a missed opportunity considering the proximity of retail and commercial buildings.

But is incineration really renewable energy? What would be really beneficial is if we stopped generating as much waste; consuming less.

At this point I could climb aboard my soap box and start puzzling over why the UK isn’t making more of her natural assets – tidal, wind, hydro, and areas such as smart grid local energy schemes (if you have the opportunity, listen to Mathew Rhodes from Encraft); Anaerobic Digestion and biogas; improving/insulating all our housing stock so we are not haemorrhaging heat into the atmosphere (and paying for all that wasted heat); optimising the resource efficiency of our businesses…………what we can learn from natural cycles that have been functioning?….well, forever…without generating waste….oh… and hydrogen fuel cell technology (Riversimple)…….

G.K. ChestertonThere are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.’

Blog post by Jane Yardley

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