From forest to smart meter: How our bioenergy gets to your business
10th December 2021
The power that turns on your lightbulbs or charges your electric vehicles goes on a fascinating journey to get to you. The renewable sources that make up our electricity supply mix take many forms, and the power goes on a unique journey from each source before it reaches our customers.
One of the most important sources of electricity in our renewable supply (and the UK’s wider electricity mix ) is bioenergy, such as that generated at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire.
Our bioenergy is clean and quick, providing stability for the UK’s energy network which has high levels of intermittent renewable generation.
Here’s the journey our bioenergy goes on, from the managed forests to powering your business.
Drax’s bioenergy starts in forests, which is where we source our sustainable biomass. The majority of these are in the South US and are owned by independent foresters.
Forests naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, making them a crucial part of reducing global emissions and meeting Paris Agreement goals.
As a result, we don’t just source our biomass from anywhere. We set and follow the highest sustainability standards for biomass in the world, meaning we only source from sustainable working forests. These forests are carefully managed, which prevents deforestation and keeps forests as forests.
In working forests, trees at different stages of their growth are used in the construction industry, or in furniture or paper production. The material for our sustainable bioenergy comes from the by-products (or “residues”) from these sectors, as well as the material removed from forests as part of critical sustainable forest management practices.
As a result, biomass creates renewable power which is also dispatchable (power that can be quickly dialled up or down when demand is high or low).
By-products from forest-based industries, like sawdust and wood chips, as well as wood that’s too small or unsuitable for use in industries like construction, are made into pellets of compressed biomass at our mills.
By providing a small but important sustainable market for these kinds of materials, we encourage landowners to protect and invest in their forests, which in turn encourages reforestation and afforestation.
Our pellet mills are located near areas of sustainable forestry industries, often close to sites like paper mills so there’s easy access to residues that can be made into biomass pellets.
The next step is getting the biomass to our power station in North Yorkshire. This is done by a combination of rail and shipping.
The ships that carry our pellets have 2,000 times the capacity of a regular lorry. This means transporting biomass from the US to the UK by sea has lower carbon emissions than transporting the same amount by truck for the same 700 km journey.
We track every biomass delivery to understand the greenhouse gas emissions produced at each stage of our supply chain. We report on all our supply chain emissions and are constantly investigating ways to make transportation even more efficient, and as sustainable as possible , like the use of low carbon fuels for our transport.
The pellets arrive at our power station, which is one of the largest biomass power stations in the world and the UK’s biggest single site of renewable power. Over the past decade, the move from using coal to sustainable biomass has allowed us to cut our carbon emissions by more than 85% since 2012.
But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve also been pioneering new technology to help us with our goal of not just reducing emissions but capturing and storing them permanently and safely.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology
BECCS at Drax Power Station captures CO2 that’s released when the biomass pellets are combusted to produce renewable energy. It’s then stored safely and permanently in secure underground locations, such as aquifers beneath the North Sea’s bed.
In this way we can deliver what’s known as negative emissions, to help us on our path to becoming a carbon negative business by 2030. Find out more about how this innovative technology works.
Having successfully piloted BECCS, development on our first generating unit’s already underway, with the aim of becoming fully operational across our two of sustainable biomass units within the next decade.
The first phase would capture 8m tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year - about the same amount of CO2 produced by almost 3.4m UK households. However, a project of this scale requires government support and robust policies in place to make it economical - in much the same way that government incentives have made wind and solar viable and integral parts of the UK’s energy mix.
The benefits of acting now to make BECCS a reality will be felt beyond Drax, throughout the Humber region. A report by Vivid Economics for Drax found that deploying BECCS across four of our generating units would support 10,304 jobs and create £673 million in economic value at the peak of the construction phase.
Finally, our renewable bioenergy ends up with you – our customers.
We’re the largest businesses-to-business electricity supplier in the UK, supplying more than 165,000 companies with renewable source electricity.
However, beyond just supplying energy to our customers we also help them to take control of their energy usage.
Here are some of the ways we help customers take control:
Our smart meters are key to giving businesses a deeper understanding of how they are using energy and its costs.
We’ve installed more than 10,000 smart meters for organisations so that everyone – from small businesses to large commercial premises – can benefit from new technologies to help manage their electricity.
We want our customers to use their electrical assets as effectively as possible. This includes providing access to technologies that encourage flexible energy consumption that can help you save money, as well as generate income from your own renewable assets and support the energy system at the same time.
Electric vehicles (EVs)
Many organisations are switching to EVs to reduce their carbon footprint and enjoy cheaper running costs.
If you’re thinking of making the transition, our EV experts are on hand to help. They can support you every step of the way, from creating a strategy that outlines the financial and environmental benefits, to installing and managing charging infrastructure.
In the last reporting period, our customers saved 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 thanks to choosing Drax – and our renewable source electricity - as their energy partner.
Bioenergy made up over a quarter of our renewable electricity supply mix, and its importance in the UK energy mix is growing every day. Find out how bioenergy is helping us along the way to a zero carbon future.