Infrastructure Assessment Sets Out Energy From Waste As “Key Area”

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its interim National Infrastructure Assessment, which examines seven key areas and sets out the vision and priorities for helping meet the country’s needs up to 2050. 

“Congestion, Capacity, Carbon – priorities for national infrastructure” identifies key areas for consideration and consultation in preparation for the Commission’s 2018 National Infrastructure Strategy, which will be published next summer and will set out its plan to equip Britain to thrive and compete globally through to 2050.

The seven key areas are set out as:

  • Building a digital society
  • Connected, liveable city-regions
  • Infrastructure to support housing
  • Eliminating carbon emissions from energy and waste
  • A revolution in road transport
  • Reducing the risk of drought and flooding
  • Financing and funding infrastructure in efficient ways

Britain’s infrastructure must overcome major challenges if it is to meet the needs of future generations, the NIC says. Chief amongst these over the coming decades will be the threats posed to the country’s prosperity and quality of life by congestion, lack of capacity and carbon.

The published document marks the next phase of the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment, setting out the Commission’s vision and priorities for action, and consulting on “what needs to be done to achieve them”.

Addressing these seven priorities will equip the UK with the infrastructure it most needs, the NIC says.

A Role In Eliminating Carbon

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In the waste sector, energy from waste infrastructure has provided a more sustainable alternative to high-carbon forms of generation. As the carbon intensity of the energy grid falls, however, efficiency improvements will be needed to maintain this advantage.

These could include siting such plants where the heat, as well as the electricity, produced could be used, or separating plastics from the waste provided to such facilities and sequestrating it.

Other technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, could also play a role, particularly if the biogas produced can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels for transport.

Managing demand and “incentivising behaviour change” are as important in reducing emissions from waste as from energy, the NIC says. A central element will be to ensure that the right incentives are in place for producers to reduce packaging.

The “packaging recovery note” system seeks to achieve this, but its success depends on supporting policies, such as recycling targets and the landfill tax. Getting the right mix of these in place will be crucial to achieving more in this area, the assessment states.

“Disposable” Society

The main challenges for the waste sector also arise from its environmental impacts, it says. The first is to “minimise” the need for waste infrastructure. A more “circular” economy would see less waste produced in the first place, with more of the remainder reused or recycled.

Reducing the quantity of waste is the best way to reduce costs for households and businesses, as well as limiting the environmental impact of waste, the NIC says.

The Commission’s vision is for the UK to have abundant low cost, low carbon energy, far less waste and more efficient, sustainable treatment of the residual waste.

The Assessment says consumers are concerned by the growing amounts of packaging waste generated by an increasingly “disposable” society. Packaging is a key issue on which the Commission will report in the final assessment, it says.

The NIC’s vision is for the UK to have abundant low cost, low carbon energy, far less waste and more efficient, sustainable treatment of the residual waste.

The NIC says is possible to achieve these goals. In particular, the successful exploitation of the falling costs of low carbon technologies will ensure energy prices are as low as possible, underpinning a strong industrial strategy.

Recommendations as to how to bring this about will form a key part of the 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment.

Consultation questions set out include:

  • How should the residual waste stream be separated and sorted amongst anaerobic digestion, energy from waste facilities and alternatives to maximise the benefits to society and minimise the environmental costs?
  • Could the packaging regulations be reformed to sharpen the incentives on producers to reduce packaging, without placing disproportionate costs on businesses or creating significant market distortions?

CIWM Says

CIWM has given a “cautious endorsement” of the report, with its chief executive saying the report hasn’t taken on board the role secondary raw materials could play in supporting other industries.

CIWM’s chief executive, Dr Colin Church, said: “CIWM and others in the sector have been working closely with the NIC over the past year or so. It is really positive therefore to see that the NIC has acknowledged the point we’ve been making that resource and waste management is a significant element of our national infrastructure beyond individual large projects.

“And the NIC’s caution about the future of electricity-only energy from waste is right, as is an emphasis on waste prevention, especially through tackling packaging issues,” says CIWM chief executive Dr Colin Church.

Dr Colin Church, CIWM – “On the other hand, the NIC disappointingly doesn’t seem to have taken on board the role secondary raw materials – beyond energy – could play in supporting other industries, from aviation and construction to automotive and computing.”

“CIWM also welcomes the continued placing of all this within the wider carbon agenda and the consultation document includes other points we would agree with, such as looking more closely at biogas and the important role that good data can play.

“We are particularly pleased to see the commitment to say more soon on the issues of poor data beyond the household waste stream; without accurate data and a clear policy framework for capturing secondary resources, we will continue to have polarised debate about infrastructure needs in this sector.

“On the other hand, the NIC disappointingly doesn’t seem to have taken on board the role secondary raw materials – beyond energy – could play in supporting other industries, from aviation and construction to automotive and computing. Whilst making a strong case for improved energy efficiency, the role of better resource efficiency is only implicit in the report.

“Overall, and taken together with yesterday’s Clean Growth Strategy, we can now at last see an overall policy picture emerging for the resource and waste management sector in England, something everyone has been seeking for quite some time.

“CIWM will continue to play its part in helping the NIC develop its thinking further in respect of the resource and waste management sector and we look forward to working with it in developing the full National Infrastructure Assessment over the coming months.”

For the full NIC report CLICK HERE


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