Why green energy is a load of c**p

Going to the loo is set to become empowering as Centrica opens the first plant producing energy from human waste.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 26 Nov 2010
Energy company Centrica has just opened its newest green (or should that be brown?) energy plant, which will convert the fumes from human sewage into biogas. The plant, at Didcot sewage works, is the first in the country to produce gas from that particular source. Apparently, the National Grid believes that in the future, at least 15% of all the gas consumed in the UK could be made from sewage, as well as food and other organic waste produced by supermarkets, businesses and even breweries. That’s not to be sniffed at, so to speak.

According to experts, the plant works like a ‘cow’s stomach on a life support machine’, storing the waste for 18 days, heating it and adding enzymes to speed up the process of anaerobic digestion to break it down (although, as one commenter on the Guardian pointed out, ‘who needs 18 days? A few pints and I could power up Birmingham in 18 minutes’). Once the material is sufficiently digested, the resulting methane can be used to power just over 200 homes in the local area.

There is a more serious side to the story, though: while National Grid may have high hopes for the process, there is a risk that similar projects could lose out on the £10bn of funding they need for new developments. Producing the gas is expensive, say companies – in fact, for it to be economically viable, they need to be able to sell it at twice the market rate. But a government subsidy, due to come into force in April, still hasn’t been approved – and with spending cuts looming, the chance of that happening is looking shakier by the minute. Poo-r show.

Still, the good news is that the Centrica facility is just a pilot project (it’s a joint venture with Thames Water, British Gas and Scotia Gas Networks), and it looks like things are set to be rolled out on a larger scale. In fact, British Gas is planning a second project with brewer Adnams, which will open an anaerobic digestion facility at its Suffolk factory creating renewable gas from slurry left over from the brewing process. The energy will then go to provide gas for 235 homes.

And while human waste may not be the most pleasant of fuels, it’s the ultimate renewable energy. We might run out of oil and coal – but we’ll always have poo.

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