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It will supply carbon-neutral biomethane to homes via the national grid and help in the Government’s fight against climate change.
It will also reduce our dependence on unreliable foreign suppliers and boost the economy by keeping billions of pounds here, which would otherwise have gone abroad.
Dale estimates that half the UK’s homes could be heated with gas from grass with a network of just 1,500 mills, which in turn would create 45,000 rural jobs.
This would leave 20 percent of the UK’s remaining homes to be heated by green hydrogen – created by using renewable energy to separate hydrogen and oxygen in water – and 30 percent to use heat pumps, which draw warmth from the air or the ground.
But he believes eventually every home could be heated with gas from grass at a cost of £30billion compared to about £300billion for heat pumps.
Dale’s plan was unveiled ahead of the Government’s controversial Heat And Buildings Strategy, which has been delayed amid reports of Cabinet battles over fears of an electoral backlash from the cost of phasing out gas boilers.
The Government’s favoured option is to get households to switch from gas boilers to heat pumps powered by renewable electricity. But heat pumps can cost up to 10 times as much as boilers and use three times as much electricity.
Finding an alternative to natural gas – a fossil fuel – is vital.
Homes account for 19 percent of UK carbon dioxide emissions, with natural gas heating the main source. Britain has to clean up its act because it has legally committed to Net Zero – eliminating or offsetting all emissions – by 2050.
Dale, the founder of green energy pioneer Ecotricity, said gas from grass would slash the cost to consumers of going green by letting them keep their existing boilers.
He said the cost of building gas from grass mills is also much less than installing heat pumps.
He added: “Switching to green gas would transform the rural economy – creating tens of thousands of sustainable farming jobs – just as EU subsidies come to an end.
“Green Gas is a perfect example of what the green economy has to offer us, if we get it right: zero carbon emissions, long-term sustainable jobs and industries, diversification from the old to the new and making room for nature.
“The beauty of our green gas is that business can go on as normal.
“We don’t need to change any gas mains infrastructure to put our green gas into the gas grid and, more importantly, consumers will not need to change any of their appliances at home.”
Ecotricity’s head of generation, Steve Ellis, explained how gas from grass is carbon neutral because, unlike fossil fuels, it does not add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. He said: “When grass grows it absorbs CO2. We make biomethane with that grass and when that is burned it releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere. So this green gas is carbon neutral over a very short time-frame – six months from absorption to release.
“Fossil gas, by comparison, is releasing CO2 that is not in the atmosphere now and has been locked up for millions of years.
“It is, therefore, a net addition to atmospheric CO2.”
The first green gas mill will be built near Reading and will use 3,000 acres to power 4,000 local homes. Dale said: “Building 1,000 gas mills would cost £10billion and provide enough gas for four million homes. The cost of four million heat pumps to do the same job is close to £30billion.”
Dale estimates that the true cost of heat pumps in every home is closer to £300billion – £150billion to install them and the rest to expand the capacity of the grid to power them and the resulting higher bills.
Other Net Zero heating options include replacing natural gas with hydrogen but it is currently more expensive, and producing it can add to greenhouse gas emissions.
Green hydrogen involves separating hydrogen and oxygen in water electrolysis powered by renewable electricity.
But the most common way to produce it is to use natural gas, which generates greenhouse gas emissions. Using gas from grass to power the nation’s homes will take up some grassland currently used to feed livestock.
But the Government’s global warming advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, this summer insisted the national diet has to change to meet Net Zero.
It said Britain needs to cut consumption of meat and dairy by 20 percent by 2030 because of methane emissions from livestock – and by 35 percent by 2050.
Dale said that the UK currently has 23 million acres of farmland, of which 63 percent – or 14.5 million acres – is grassland. Using grass to heat half the UK’s homes would require up to 4.5 million acres.
Dale said: “Heating 100 percent of homes from grass is feasible, leaving 40 percent of grassland for other purposes.”
The first farmer to join the scheme, Russell Butler, 45, who lives near Reading, said he wanted to help create a greener Britain and one which didn’t rely on importing energy from all over the world, with its associated transport costs.
“We are an island and should be finding ways to create all that we need right here.”
Russell believes that green gas mills are the way forward. He said: “We will be using fewer chemicals because the residue from the plant will provide a natural fertiliser.”
He added: “There is enough land in the UK to produce enough food to feed us as a nation and to produce green gas.” But a paper by campaign group biofuelwatch said heating every home with gas from grass would require 92 percent of the UK’s grassland and would “all but end livestock grazing”.
It also warned that turning grass into biomethane involves releasing the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere.
But Ecotricity’s Steve said gas from grass could insulate Britain from volatile foreign markets.
He said: “The price of gas fluctuates considerably. Right now the UK is gripped by very high gas prices and is dependent on foreign countries for 50 percent of the gas we use. We are vulnerable to supply chain shocks and price manipulation. At today’s gas price, green gas is cheaper to make. It has the knock-on considerable benefits of creating jobs and keeping money spent on gas in our economy.”
However, the Government seems set on phasing out gas boilers – even if green gas is supplied.
A Government spokesman said: “Over the next 15 years, we will incentivise households to switch to lower carbon, more efficient heating systems as people come to replace their fossil fuel boilers.
“Our entire approach will be to keep energy bills low and ensure this gradual transition away from gas boilers is fair and affordable for consumers and the taxpayer. We have committed £1.3billion this year alone to support upgrades to home energy efficiency, and next year our new Clean Heat Grant scheme will launch to support consumers to transition to low carbon, more efficient heating.”
The National Farmers’ Union gave the green gas scheme a cautious welcome – but warned that Dale may need more land to feed his mills. Spokesman Dr Jonathan Scurlock said: “We are encouraging the idea of producing more methane from anaerobic digesters across the UK to displace the fossil fuel gas that boilers currently run on. We will watch to see if it comes to fruition.”
A BIG challenge is to replace fossilfuel gas which heats 85 percent of our homes.
Houses account for 19 percent of CO2 emissions with most from heating.
The favoured option of the Government is to replace traditional boilers, particularly with heat pumps.
But these electric-powered devices, which extract heat from the air or ground, may cost up to £18,000. A new gas boiler can cost as little as £1,000.
Ministers also favour green hydrogen but it is currently more expensive than natural gas and many domestic systems would have to be adapted.
TURNING grass to gas is a carbonneutral way to heat homes without scrapping boilers.
This is the claim of green energy supplier Ecotricity.
Grass is broken down by bacteria in a sealed anaerobic digester.
This produces biogas plus an organic fertiliser to grow more grass. The biogas is “scrubbed” to remove some carbon dioxide and upgraded to biomethane for use in the gas network.
Ecotricity believes 32 percent of our grassland could heat half our homes.
We would have fewer grazing animals but there is a climate push to cut meat eating by 35 percent by 2050.
‘It will secure a future for my family’
Pioneering farmer Russell Butler sees growing grass for gas as doing his bit for the planet, writes Steph Spyro.
The fourth-generation farmer believes it will help tackle climate change and “secure a future” for his family.
Russell, 45, who is married with children, will use his property and neighbouring land to make up the 3,000 acres needed for the first grass mill.
He said: “I am doing this to secure a future for my family and to help tackle climate change. I don’t agree with us importing all of our energy from all over the world, having it transported here.
“We are an island and should be finding ways to create all that we need right here. The Green Gas mill is a way that we can make that happen. There is enough land in the UK to produce enough food to feed us as a nation and produce green gas.” Around 52 percent of food consumed in the UK is produced domestically, with the remaining 48 percent imported.
Russell employs six full-time staff who help farm grass, wheat, barley, whole crop rye, maize and forage rye.
The acreage of crops grown is split equally and rotated to ensure nutrients from the soil are not depleted. This means fields will grow grass for a period before production moves to another field.
Soil health will improve from crop rotations and the gas-making process produces organic fertiliser as a by-product. Ecotricity’s first green gas mill will cost £10million to build and will create around 30 jobs. Other local farmers will help grow the feedstock – a mix of grass, with a small amount of maize and whole crop cereal.
Russell, from Reading, believes other farmers are excited by the innovation and more will get involved when the plant is operating. He said: “There is interest from other farmers and I know I will get more once we are up and running with the plant.”
He will begin to hire more staff when the plant begins to operate. “Having the plant on our land will offer job opportunities for the local community,” he said.
“We are planning to reuse digestates from the anaerobic digestion plant.
“In layman’s terms, this means that we will be using natural fertiliser instead of chemicals.”
COMMENT BY DALE VINCE
Boris Johnson wants to take away your gas boiler. It would be a big step towards zero carbon by ending the use of fossil gas in our homes but makes no sense.
The idea is for everyone to have a heat pump. As it’s green technology I should be in favour but I’m not.
Gas boilers are actually the best choice to heat our homes.
So today Ecotricity and the Daily Express have launched a new campaign to save Britain’s gas boilers.
The big news is that we can keep them and still eradicate carbon emissions. We can do it faster, cheaper and simpler than with heat pumps.
All we have to do is replace fossil gas with green gas. How we can make that gas will surprise you. But first let’s look at what the Government is proposing.
Heat pumps work like a fridge in reverse, using electricity to take heat most commonly from the air.
But they’re expensive to install at about £8,000 per house. And expensive to run at about £400 per year more than using a gas boiler. That’s another £7billion a year on our nation’s energy bills.
Worse still we will need to upgrade the grid to generate the electricity to power these new devices.
The total cost could approach £300billion. A mad sum of money especially when we can do the job for a fraction of that.
Ecotricity has pioneered a new way to make green gas using grass.
The total cost is just £30billion with zero per cent of the hassle, upheaval and waste. And with some big upsides.
It will create thousands of jobs in the rural economy plus vast wildlife habitats.
And within 10 years we could be energy independent for our gas. We actually have enough marginal grassland to make enough to power all of our homes.
This is not theory. Existing technology known as anaerobic digestion does the job. It works like a cow’s stomach but the methane is harnessed and used to power our country rather than power the climate crisis. Our only by-product is fertiliser.
Our first grass-fed gas mill is being built in Reading. Next year it will be pumping green gas into the grid and fuelling 4,000 homes.
Our Government needs to wake up and smell the freshly mown grass. The answer to the question about how we heat our homes and fight the climate crisis is growing right under our feet.
- Dale Vince is an Eco-entrepreneur
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