The year 2020 was dominated more by setbacks and reversals than positive news so it was perhaps unsurprising that so many column inches were devoted to the smaller number of ‘wins’ recorded in that period.
Not least among these was the much-heralded news that the UK’s renewable electricity supply had outdone the contribution from fossil sources over the entire 12-month cycle.
And across much of the world’s leading economies, corporations are vying to declare their green credentials and commitment to environmentally-friendly fuel, energy and carbon footprint-conscious standards.
Process industry giant Honeywell recently declared its intention to achieve carbon neutrality in just 14 years from now, investing further in energy saving projects, conversion to renewables capital improvements and carbon credits.
It is part of a process already 17 years old that Honeywell says has seen a 90% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of its operations and sites; with more than 5,700 sustainability projects launched in the last decade that have had the net effect of cost savings of an estimated $100 million a year.
If we want to enable net zero by 2050 then we cannot afford to wait, and that’s why we have adopted a ‘trial by doing’ approach
Sotiris Georgiopoulo, head of smart grid, UK Power Networks
It is no slight to modern industry to suggest that a significant component of its green crusade is brand focused. While such aspects have always mattered, their significance has grown in the era of social media and lightning communication when reputations can be speedily built and ruined.
The benefits of transformation in terms of brand image are clearcut and relatively easy to realise; the practicalities of creating a new economic model without losing the useful aspects of legacy operations perhaps are more challenging.
Take, for example, the development of the hydrogen economy, increasingly seen as a vital component that will underpin the move to a new energy order. Simon Barnes, author of a recent University of Kent study on hydrogen demand in the south east presented to Parliament, describes the scale of growth required.
Using the example of Kent and the wider south east, hydrogen is, he says, is a ‘prime tool’ in efforts to achieve the net zero carbon target, but it must first be harnessed.
“According to a range of estimates (from the Hydrogen Council, the European Union, etc), hydrogen could make up to between 15%-20% of our energy demand by 2050 – a figure supported by research undertaken here at the University of Kent.
“Our recent report, accepted as Written Evidence by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, states that by 2050 London, Kent and Essex could need between 800,000 and 1.25 million tonnes a year of hydrogen to satisfy demand at this level. To put this into perspective, production capacity for the region is currently just 3,500 tonnes per annum.”
Yet the scale of the investment commitments required for renewable energy transformation is as much an opportunity as a challenge, increasing the need for collaborative ventures and opening up lateral markets to companies seeking to diversify revenue streams.
On the international stage, consulting and engineering company Wood launched a three-year engineering agreement with NEL Hydrogen. Wood’s project execution expertise supporting NEL’s delivery of large-scale green hydrogen production plants and transition towards an integrated, lower carbon future.
Within the UK the South Coast Regional Development Programme has been founded as what its partners claim is the country’s first coordinated system to boost renewable energy.
A collaboration between National Grid Electricity System Operator, National Grid Electricity Transmission and UK Power Networks – the first distribution network operator to use the set-up – the system is to be introduced to other participating networks this year.
While the South Coast region boasts significant amounts of renewable energy generation, a nuclear power station and interconnecting cables to Europe, this creates challenges for transmission and distribution companies managing electricity flows. The new system will directly connect the local networkoperator’s control room with that of the national system operator, providing greater visibility and control to ensure balance, and will enable up to 600MW of distributed energy resources to be connected in the region.
Head of smart grid at UK Power Networks, Sotiris Georgiopoulos explains: “If we want to enable net zero by 2050 then we cannot afford to wait, and that’s why we have adopted a ‘trial by doing’ approach, working closely with the national transmission system operator to deliver cost-effective solutions.
“This is the first time in the UK that we see a distribution and a transmission system operator coordinating in real time, supporting the wider system.”
Shifting from fossil fuels towards a more regenerative energy supply leaves that supply more at the mercy of events less easily within human control, increasing the
value of finding efficiencies within the process environment.
For Norway’s electricity system, which contributes to the bulk of the country’s overall energy consumption, this was a factor in employing ABB’s distributed control platform ABB Ability System 800xA, integrating process control, power management and electrical and safety networks within a common system for its Straumsmo and Innset hydropower plants.
Head of ABB Energy Industries in Northern Europe, Per Erik Holsten states: “With such a high dependency on hydro power to deliver electricity across Norway, these plants can truly be classed as critical infrastructure. Improving upon and sustaining each plant’s installed base, assets and smooth operations is vital.”
In Malta, the €12 million installation of a ‘shore-to-ship’ project for Valletta port by Nidec ASI is expected to reduce gas emissions by 40 tonnes annually, by allowing cruise ships berthed to draw from the island’s energy grid the power they require without their on-board diesel engines running.
Closer to home, service contractors are also gaining. Cyberhawk contracted with Scottish Power owner SP Energy Networks to provide drone-based inspection for 2,400 towers and electricity transmission structures, ensuring a safe and resilient electricity supply to more 3.5 million customers, providing an environmentally conscious solution to inspection and enabling significant emissions reductions.
Control systems are vital to managing systems based on fluctuating energy sources but their benefits go far wider.
One of the UK’s largest energy providers, Drax is focused on modernising its IT infrastructure in order to minimise the environmental footprint of production.
It has converted nearly 70% of its North Yorkshire site to biomass in place of coal, for what the company defines as the largest decarbonisation project in Europe, qualifying Drax as the UK’s biggest single site renewable power generator.
With a goal to become carbon negative by 2030 by deploying negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage Drax turned to IT and data services provider Solace.
Director of IT at Drax Group, Mark Leonard outlines: “Having efficient IT infrastructure is key to delivering our purpose of enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future for our business customers.”
Solace’s event mesh distributes data between applications and devices in real time, running across divisions and on-premises data centres as well as public Clouds, enabling Drax to dynamically manage demand fluctuations, storage and energy delivery.
It is essential that manufacturing, as such a critical industry, is not forced down a ‘one size fits all’ approach
George Webb, CEO, Liquid Gas UK
If the long-term damage to the planet makes energy conversion a no-brainer for environmentalists, industry will inevitably take a more equivocal view, based on the logistical obstacles for businesses.
Electrification of manufacturing facilities is not only expensive but difficult to achieve. Trade body Liquid Gas UK points out the obstacles for electrification through heat pumps in the case of off-grid buildings as many date back before 1919 and lack thermal insulation. More than 60,000 non-domestic buildings, it says, are currently heated by oil, coal or LPG (liquified petroleum gas).
Current hydrogen production is too low and will expand around dedicated hubs. LPG and BioLPG offer a comple-mentary solution, suggests LGUK.
The £4,300 cost of an LPG boiler is less than a third of a commercial air source heat pump. And while biomass and BioLPG boilers both emit low CO2, the former carries air damage costs that are more than 20 times greater.
“As the Government seeks ways to clamp down on emissions to meet its 2050 net-zero target it is essential that manufacturing, as such a critical industry, is not forced down a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This is especially important in the last year where industries across the UK have suffered a massive economic blow because of the impact of Covid-19,” warns Liquid Gas UK CEO George Webb [pictured above].
“It is vital that the Government does not impose harsh economic costs on the manufacturing sector by forcing them to take up expensive solutions towards the path of net zero.”