Leeds Council has launched one of the UK’s largest heat networks, which will enable a recycling facility to deliver heat and hot water to thousands of homes and businesses. This project is just one example of regional energy solutions being implemented or under consideration. Other examples include the idea of exploiting the reservoir of warm water in disused mines to heat houses in Glasgow and the scheme for London buses to run on biofuel from coffee grounds.
In contrast to traditional centralised energy provisions, new energy solutions are increasingly distributed and varied. With so many diverse solutions, the challenge for policymakers is to provide support without predicting or directing particular technologies. This has brought about the government’s recent focus on innovation, and it predicts that spending on energy innovation investments in the UK is set to reach £400 million per year by 2020.
Another challenge is the need to adapt the energy system to cope with the increased level of distributed generation, which presents difficulties for the existing electricity and gas networks. The use of a range of storage technologies will play an important part in balancing both centralised and distributed power generation. This could be heat storage linked to solar panels, or batteries connected to both wind farms and the electricity grid.
Energy production is becoming more diverse, with many new and varied sustainable solutions. However, it is predicted that reliance on traditional thermal generation will remain significant out to 2040. Therefore, the successful uptake of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is seen as an essential tool to meet climate change targets. However, high costs have acted as a barrier to significant take up. Some hope has emerged from the US where Net Power’s 50 MW pilot natural gas plant will capture all the CO2 it emits at no additional cost. Efficiency is improved because the plant will use some of the captured CO2 to drive the turbine that produces electricity.