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Sara Custer

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It's Time to Turn Trash in to Treasure Mr. Davey

Posted: 5/03/2012 19:16

Newly promoted Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey has got a lot on his plate as he takes over responsibilities and begins the roll out for his "Green Deal" in which he will tell businesses to "get serious about saving energy". It is essential that he also not miss this opportunity to get serious about creating green electricity through modern day alchemy: Anaerobic Digestion (AD).

AD transforms biomass made up of base materials like food waste, energy crops, crop residues, slurry, manure and sewage into noble, golden, renewable methane. The biomass from homes, supermarkets, businesses and farms is broken down in sealed containers by naturally occurring micro-organisms producing Biogas- a mixture of 60% methane, 40% carbon dioxide which can be used for heating or electricity.

Currently there are 60 functioning AD plants in the UK - paltry compared to Germany's more than 3,000. In the past AD was used in sewage treatment plants but in the last few years, the National Union of Farmers has established standards for a long lasting AD industry. Indeed at the same time the government is pushing 15% renewable energy goals, the NFU is campaigning to increase AD plants to 1,000 by the end of the decade.

Germany understands that more AD plants means self-sustainable farms and greenhouses, year-round home-grown food, green electricity being pumped into the grid and less waste going into landfills.

Private investors are starting to get the idea as well. Tamer Energy has just secured financial backing of £65m to develop a network of 40 AD plants around the UK. Funding came from The Prince of Wales, financier Jacob Rothschild and J Sainsbury.

It might seem a bit unfair to compare the UK to green bastion Germany, but I'm not the only one. In his first week on the job, environmental think tank Green Alliance hosted an invitation only debate between Davey and former German Environment Minister Professor Dr Klaus Töpfer to discuss what impact the financial crisis will have on the green economic transition.

A post on GA's blog written by Dr. Caroline Johnson outlining what Germany can learn from England came out before the debate and an infographic explaining just what the green growth differences are in both countries after.

What the UK government and GA's post and subsequent infographic leave out however is: how the UK can learn from Germany and take AD from just waste management to a viable source of electricity. I wasn't at the debate so I can't say first hand what was covered but following #gadebate12 on Twitter, I assume AD didn't come up there either.

Government has been slow to improve the lot of the AD industry. If Mr. Davey ever hopes to embed efficient energy across the sector, he should take more practical action to encourage AD through clearer regulations, more financial backing and establish fair trading in the electricity market between the companies who have a monopoly and AD producers.

 

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