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Greening the UK's energy mix: the impact of green gas

Posted in: Energy news

Posted on: 06.06.2016

The UK is taking incredible steps towards a truly low carbon energy system.

It’s a testament to our world class renewable resources that clean, green sources of power now account for 25% of the UK’s electricity generation. Whilst we’ve done well on the electricity side of things, the heat market is still lagging way behind. 

The commercialisation of green gas is a welcome innovation, maximising the potential of renewables in the heat market.

What is green gas?

Green gas, or biomethane, is gas that’s not from fossil fuels.

When organic matter such as plants, animal manure and sewage decomposes, it releases methane. This is captured and can be injected into the national gas grid or burnt on site to produce electricity and heat.

This process is called anaerobic digestion, and it’s a way of capturing natural gas without needing to dig it out of the ground.

Best of all, because green gas is produced from organic matter that has absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the same amount of CO2 is released when the gas is burned. This doesn’t break the carbon balance.

Anecdotal evidence of green gas use goes back as far as the 10th century but it’s only recently that commercial biomethane generation has really kicked off.

Government support of biomethane production in the form of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has meant that the number of green gas plants in the UK has risen from just one in 2013 to over 300 now, 60 of which are feeding directly into the grid.

The Renewable Energy Association has estimated that green gas could produce as much as a quarter of the UK’s equivalent natural gas imports by 2035.

Since the 1st April, 6% of Good Energy’s gas is biomethane – a percentage that will increase as the industry grows.

A drop in the green ocean

Good Energy is by no means the only firm offering green gas. Many other energy companies and businesses are generating and selling their own biomethane using a host of different organic matter.

These range from distilleries, including the makers of Glenfiddich whisky, who are turning grain and liquid waste into gas, to cheese makers Wyke Farms who use everything from waste whey, apple pumice and cow manure to power their production.

The beauty of green gas is its simple, visceral backstory – the nation was gripped by biomethane mania in March last year when green gas firm GENeco launched its bus powered by human sewage in Bristol.

The idea that you can extract a useful fuel from such a tangible waste product makes people sit up and pay attention, and it’s a great way to engage the public in green issues.

Big brands have taken note, too. Sainsbury’s is now powering some if its stores with green gas, Waitrose has started the move from diesel to biomethane in its haulage fleet and IKEA hasembarked on a project to make plastic for its furniture from biogas.

The green gas industry is demonstrating the possibilities of closing the loop on manufacturing, waste and energy. It shows what forward-thinking businesses can achieve if they put their minds to it.

With our own research showing that the UK continued to import over 60% of its fuel in 2014, green gas offers a possibility for further home grown generation, whilst helping to decarbonise our power requirements and increase energy security.

Meeting the COP21 agreement

If left to escape into the atmosphere, methane is over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Capturing and burning it instead releases the same amount of carbon than the organic matter originally absorbed, meaning no net impact on climate change.

With world leaders making a huge promise last month in New York to take action to protect our climate, we need innovations like green gas to keep us on the path towards a low carbon energy system.

This article originally appeared on BusinessGreen.

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