Walter Ryan-Purcell, BioPower Group, Plc. : "Ireland can produce a multiple of it's requirements through renewable resources, create over 80,000 jobs, and offset tens of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases"

BioPower Group Plc is a bioenergy and organic waste management company, which has developed a system to convert organic waste to energy (BioPower System 6) combining a number of existing technologies in a unique integrated cycle. BioPower plans to build thirty BioParks® strategically located across Britain and Ireland. The company also recently commissioned a report entitled the BioPower Report: Renewable Energy Generation and Renewable Resources in Ireland, the main findings of which are that Ireland has an abundance of renewable energy and that a combination of these renewable energies can give Ireland a totally secure dependable and predictable energy supply. It also announces that Ireland could and should be The Green Energy Capital of Europe and has the capability of creating in excess of 80,000 sustainable jobs. Walter Ryan-Purcell is the Managing Director and founder of BioPower. He co-founded a successful industrial composting business, McGill Environmental Systems (Ireland) Ltd., and is also a Director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.

In this interview, Walter Ryan-Purcell discusses the findings of the BioPower Report and Ireland’s renewable energy targets for the future.

Interview date: August, 2009

Interviewer: Toby Price

To kick of the interview, could you please describe how and why Biopower plc. was founded and what the company’s primary objectives are?

BioPower Group plc is a bioenergy investment company, set up to fund ethical profitable renewable energy and water projects. We take a very hands on approach. BioPower was established due to the impending shortages in fossil fuel supplies.

At the end of July, the Irish Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, launched The BioPower Report, compiled by your company over the last six months and outlining how Ireland can meet all its energy demands using renewable energy and create over 80,000 sustainable jobs at the same time. Why was Biopower selected to write this report?

Last year we asked the questions: How much renewable energy can we produce in Ireland, how many sustainable jobs would this create, and how many tonnes of Carbon Dioxide could be off-set as a result.

To our surprise, with a mix of technologies, we found that Ireland can produce a multiple of it’s requirements through renewable resources, create over 80,000 jobs, and offset tens of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

This needed to be shared with the politicians and the public. So we created a table, which is the last page of the report. We would encourage other countries / universities to create similar reports for the nations. The BioPower Report also includes all of the legislative drivers, and the EU recommendations to encourage such development. Researchers often find it difficult to obtain sufficiently robust data for studies on the proliferation of renewable energies, due to the fact that the industry is still in its infancy in many countries.

How easy was it for you to obtain reliable data on which to base your conclusions?

Not easy at all. We trawled through industry websites, contacted numerous people, and painstakingly calculated the realistic figures for each technology.

What were the most surprising findings made during your research and what areas do you believe warrant further investigation?

They all warrant further investigation. We think Universities in all countries could get involved in compiling their data, and the overall data could be collated by us in BioPower, in conjunction with one of the Universities.

The technologies suitable for different countries and population uses will vary considerably. It is important to identify the correct mix for each country.

In Ireland there is a real opportunity to encourage micro-electric generation. This may well be also true for many other countries and islands.

The number of sustainable jobs that can be created in significant. And the fact that Ireland can become fossil fuel independent quite easily was a real surprise to us.

In your report, you explain that the Irish Government’s White Paper on Energy states that it is Government policy for 15% of electricity consumption to come from renewable sources by 2010. You also explain that in 2007, electricity generated from renewables totalled 2,758 GWh, which will have to grow by 74% to 4,800 GWh if the 15% target for 2010 is to be met. Do you think this target is realisable given that we are already half way through 2009?

Unfortunately not. Governments set realistic targets but do not follow with the wherewithall to make it happen. The Renewable Energy Directive clearly advises Governments to create tax incentives and other encouragements to support this industry. However Irish utility companies are doing a lot of research and work to drive forward renewable energy production.

You also explain in your report that the Irish Government has set a highly ambitious target of 40% for 2020 (currently only 9.4% of electricity is generated from renewable sources). What does the Government and private business need to do over the next 10 years to ensure installed capacity increases to meet this target, especially in light of the current credit crunch which is impeding investments in renewables worldwide?

The advice outlined in the Renewable Energy Directive needs to be implemented by Governments. This would encourage high net worth individuals to avail of tax breaks and invest in this sustainable profitable industry. Companies such as BioPower are set up as an investment vehicle for this industry.

In the case of the 40% target, you explain that 9.8 TWh would have to come from renewables in 2015, growing to 15.6 TWh by 2020. How would these totals be divided up by energy source? Which renewable do you see as being most critical in Ireland and why?

Ireland has enormous potential for ocean and wind energy generation, for electricity generation. There is a considerable area of land suitable for food and bioenergy production, especially oil seed rape for biofuel production. As this is a rotational crop, grown one year in four, this system greatly increases the quantities of food produced. Such a mix would satisfy much of the electricity, heat and transport requirements.

Your company focuses on biofuels and biomass. Could you please describe to readers how and why Ireland should invest in these renewable sources in its quest to become energy self-sufficient?

Ireland needs to produce fuel for heavy vehicle transport. Electricity will be the preferred choice for cars and other small vehicles, much of this produce by micro generation. BioPower is also involved in organic waste to energy, which produces significant quantities of electricity, heat, and organic fertilisers. BioPower integrates these in order to provide bioenergy locally, and each BioPark® is sized and designed and landscaped so as not to create negative impacts.

You believe that the 40% target “represents an unprecedented technical challenge for the national grid”. Other countries such as Spain, which already rely heavily on renewables for electricity generation, have had to invest considerable sums of money in improving and modifying their national grids to cope with the specific nature of renewable energy, especially wind power. The Spanish grid operator, Red Eléctrica, for example has started up a Control Centre of Renewable Energies (Cecre); a worldwide pioneering initiative to monitor and control these energy resources. Is Ireland preparing itself for the “unprecedented technical challenge” that lies ahead?

There is considerable debate about developing and investing in the national grid. The main advantage of microgeneration is that bioenergy can be produced and consumed locally. For example rural dwellings that have one or more wind turbines can use what they need, and export the balance, by way of a ‘smart meter’ to the grid. In Ireland the rural grid network will take up to 6kW.

We have an old expression ‘an ounce of method is equal to a tonne of energy’. We need to be clever in designing power generation technologies that do not necessitate excessive transmission costs. These calculations are not difficult, but they need to be done independently, and not by companies or their consultants which benefit from maximum infrastructure.

You calculate that the Irish renewable energies industry has the potential to create 80,000 sustainable jobs. How did you reach this figure?

BioPower researched the industry data, and calculated the figures that did not exist already. For example we took a thousand hectares of arable land, calculated the output of the crops, the manhours required along the growing, distribution, manufacturing and supply chain, and calculated the best estimates.

Several months ago, Gabriel Calzada, Chairman of the Juan de Mariana Institute in Spain, published a report (Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources) claiming that renewable energies destroy employment rather than create it. On dissemination, this report understandably created considerable controversy. Have you read the report and if so, what are your views on Calzada’s findings?

I am sorry I have not read the report. There will certainly be a definite shift in energy supply and employment over the next twenty years. It will be a most interesting stage in man’s evolution, coping with social, economic, infrastructure, and climate change. We know there will be considerable job creation within the renewable energy industry, and these jobs will be created locally. It is highly likely that all economics will revert to a more local scenario, and a less global one. This will be one of the most significant changes/shifts in international politics, and will possibly negate the need for central administrations, and layers of authority.

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