RSK’s role in the transition from coal to renewables

March 25, 2021

On Friday, 5 March 2021, Tim Buisseret, Bulgaria Country Director from the UK Department for International Trade, hosted a 90-minute webinar concerning technologies and solutions for transiting from coal towards renewable energy sources. As part of the webinar, RSK’s Ferenc Kis presented a segment about financing solar PV projects in Hungary. The event coincided with a recent statement by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “All planned coal projects around the world must be cancelled to end the ‘deadly addiction’ to the most polluting fossil fuel,” he said, at the summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance: a group of businesses and governments that seeks to end burning coal for power. The UK is, ostensibly, on track to end coal burning in power plants in 2024.

The UK energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the Powering Past Coal Alliance summit that the UK government is committed to “powering forward with the transition away from coal for power generation and into the enormous economic potential of clean technologies”. However, Cumbria County Council granted planning permission to a new mine near Whitehaven last October. The mine is set to produce coking coal for use in steel making. Greenpeace UK and the country’s most eminent environmental scientists have criticised the move.

The transition

Over the past 30 years, the UK has significantly reduced its use of coal for electricity generation from 70 to 3%. By 2024, the government plans to phase out coal use. Doing so, began Tim Buisseret, means transitioning from coal to renewable sources of energy and adhering to EU directives. The transition is fundamental to achieving a net-zero-emissions world by 2050. “Coal transition creates societal and economic challenges,” said the Bulgaria country director, but it also creates “opportunities to reshape communities and offers an alternative to gas”.

The technology

Nick Ethelstone, head of the Coal Authority’s commercial report and advisory services, outlined the UK’s coal-mining landscape. About 11% of the country is occupied by coalfields and 9 million properties lie within these. Annually, the Coal Authority issues 2000 permits for work on mines and treats 122 billion litres of water. His colleague and commercial manager of Mine Energy, Charlotte Adams, spoke about what is happening to the 23,000 abandoned deep coal mines scattered throughout the UK. When a mine is decommissioned, it is flooded with water. Over time, geological processes heat that water. Vitally, it remains at a stable temperature year-round. The Coal Authority has calculated that the constantly replenishing water in the thousands of abandoned mines could satisfy all the heating requirements for the properties on the coalfields. It could also be used for heat and energy in horticulture, manufacturing and other industries.

“It is an excellent and viable alternative to gas: it remains at a stable temperature all year round and it’s more efficient than other open-air sources,” explained Charlotte Adams. RSK company Ground Heat specialises in installing water-source heat pumps that extract heat from the water in underground mines. This type of mine-energy project is becoming more common and cost-effective in the UK.

The future

RSK Renewable Energy Business Development Director Ferenc Kis outlined how RSK operates, including its vertically integrated system of operation in the Middle East and Asia. Ferenc spoke about RSK’s work on solar PV projects in Eastern Europe, specifically about how the projects involved repurposing brownfield sites as solar PV plants. The projects are funded through feed-in tariffs, power-purchase-agreement contracts with the network operator or are partially financed by the EU. Ferenc explained how solar farms provide a real opportunity to enhance biodiversity. They can lead to an increase in the diversity and abundance of broad-leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds compared with arable control plots. A greater focus on wildlife management may include seeding with a diverse seed mix and limiting the use of herbicides, which will provide good marginal habitats for wildlife.

“Although RSK was not involved with the projects I reviewed in my presentation, I think the decade-long experience of the geotechnical and environmental teams adds real value for future project developments. As our footprint in Europe increases, such as with the recent acquisition of Amphos 21 in Spain, we are continually working to repurpose brownfield sites as viable and cost-effective solar developments. Another exciting field is the combination of biodiversity benefits at solar sites, especially those 50–100 megawatt projects, which occupy land for up to 25 years.”

By taking the dual approach of considering biodiversity enhancement alongside renewable energy generation, more progress will be made towards net zero than if governments and industry barons solely focus on reducing carbon emissions.

If you’d like to learn more about our renewable services, contact Ferenc Kis.

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