“The UK government believes that energy from Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is here to stay,” says Victoria Lancaster, H&H Land and Property’s renewables consultant.
That’s according to its third and final Annual Report into AD – and the Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan, which has just been published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Victoria adds: “We welcome the positive approach shown by government to the growth in AD schemes – especially farm scale ones. These can provide dairy farmers with a much-needed alternative source of income, as well as a supply of both hot water and electricity for the next 20 years.
“AD is often seen as a complex option but with the right support and careful consideration in the initial phase of the scheme, it can prove to be a very good investment.”
The three-year Action Plan has helped to encourage considerable growth in AD since 2011. Then there were 68 sites. This has grown to 140, with a further 200 already having planning consent and about to be built. The largest growth is in on-farm systems.
Local farmers who are interested should contact Victoria about the AD Ask the Expert day she is planning for farmers who may be thinking about investing in a scheme. This involves visits to two local AD sites and a chance to talk to owners and to the installation company responsible.
“Dairy, pig and poultry units are prime targets for anaerobic digesters,” Victoria adds. “Or any farm which has surplus crops or silage, or access to food waste.”
The government estimates continued ‘active growth’ in the sector up to 2017 and hopes that, ultimately, AD can become non-tariff dependent in future. Their report clearly identifies the green credentials of these schemes, which produce hot water and electricity.
“Larger AD plants are looking at innovative uses for their hot water, over and above farm use,” says Victoria. “This has included a bottling plant and creation of drying floors, as well as selling heat to local hotels, public buildings like schools, and homes. Planning for this in the early stages of the scheme is clearly important if the full value of the RHI payment is to be obtained. Electricity can be used on site or sold into the Grid.
Victoria points to the advantages experienced by farmers who decide to look into the feasibility of AD.”
She continues: “The government continues to support feasibility studies with the £10m WRAP grant fund, which provides support to farmers wanting to investigate whether their site is suitable for an AD system. A loan scheme for the construction phase is also available. Needless to say, you should seek professional advice from ourselves to see which options are right for you. With schemes of different sizes available it is only sensible to get things right, early on.”
The government supports waste food and manure-based inputs. Victoria is keen to point out that they acknowledge the benefits of using on-farm crops/silage in smaller schemes (under 250kW) as well as waste feedstocks.
The recycling of digestate – the liquid left over from the process- is also acknowledged as a significant benefit from AD schemes.
Over a million tonnes went on to the land in 2012-13, reducing reliance on inorganic fertiliser, and demonstrating its usefulness as a soil enhancer. In fact 90% of the digestate was recycled in this way.
Other uses for the digestate are still being researched, to further enhance the financial returns of the whole scheme.
Banks and lenders are also getting on board, with forward-looking institutions seeing the advantages of schemes, and judging them as equal to other forms of alternative energy investment.
Finally, Victoria confirms that even planning departments are getting behind schemes, as Government does its best to removing the barriers to development where it can.
Smaller AD schemes may not require full planning permission, as they can often apply through the permitted development route instead.
Planners often find the visual impact of AD developments to be much less than that of other renewable technologies and feel that they are often more naturally integrated into the existing farm steading.