District heating company calls for an end to inefficient use of biomass in conventional power stations

The Renewables Obligation (RO) is incentivising a wasteful use of biomass which squanders waste heat
District heating company calls for an end to inefficient use of biomass in conventional power stations

Mark Whettall, a director of Hampshire district heating company CPV Ltd, has called for an end to the way in which the Renewables Obligation (RO) provides incentives for electricity producers to use biomass fuel in inefficient, conventional power stations.

“I of course acknowledge that using biomass is much better than simply burning fossil fuels  such as coal, but to do it at such a low level of efficiency - and furthermore provide financial incentives for doing so - really has to be brought into question” Mr Whettall said. “It's a finite resource and as such, we must make sure that we benefit from every milligram of the carbon saving inherent in the fuel, by utilising as much of the energy produced and not simply reject it into the atmosphere via a cooling tower.”

Although the government will start to reduce the level of ROC support for co-firing with biomass from April 2013, the practice will still continue Mr Whettall added. Power stations such as the massive Drax plant in North Yorkshire will consume vast quantities of biomass fuel thereby diverting financial support from more efficient technologies.

“The Scottish Government has indeed taken this a step further and recently announced that it intends on withdrawing ROC support for wood-fuelled biomass stations with an installed capacity greater than 15 megawatts” Mr Whettall continued, “…if they fail to operate as a combined heat and power plant (CHP) - i.e. utilise the heat produced in the power generation process.”

Mr Whettall said that such action has to be applauded but nevertheless while we are still faced with the challenge of decarbonising UK space heating and hot water supplies we simply cannot afford to waste any heat energy, not even with a 15MW threshold.

“The recently published heat strategy document from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) demonstrates the key role that district heating will play as a means of delivering low-carbon heating and hot water supplies to consumers - whether they are domestic, commercial or industrial. The out-of-town locations for most of our large scale power stations make connection to district heating networks a challenging financial proposition, but technically very straightforward - as well demonstrated in countries such as Denmark where multiple towns and cities are interconnected via highly-insulated district heating networks.”

Mr Whettall believes that the case for decentralised electricity generation with biomass-fuelled CHP technologies has never been stronger and will tick many of the boxes in the UK’s energy strategy. Not only will it ease the predicted shortfall in generation capacity but will also deliver heating and hot water where it’s required via district heating networks – many of which will be able to be interlinked as the connected loads increase, thereby offering further economies of scale and diversity of energy source.

“Whilst we can of course grow new biomass, there will come a point - as demand increases - when this is no longer sustainable and continuing to allow conventional power stations to squander vast quantities of this resource is simply irresponsible and cannot continue” Mr Whettall said.

CPV Ltd is based near Romsey, Hampshire, and is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of specialist engineering pipe systems for industrial applications. The company has established a worldwide reputation for innovation including corrosion-resistant pipes and pre-insulated pipe systems for district heating and cooling applications.

Further information:


DECC policy on district heating

DECC low carbon heat strategy

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