Waste to energy helps to secure Europe's energy future

Written by: Bryan W Jardine | Published:

Further to analysis carried out by law firm Wolf Theiss, which examines the current regulatory and incentive regimes for the promotion of WtE projects in 14 countries in central and eastern Europe, Bryan W Jardine takes a look at the wide variation between the different countries

The European Commission is currently preparing a technical communication focusing on WtE aiming to explore the opportunities it offers, particularly with regard to synergies between resource and energy efficiency. The communication is scheduled to be published at the end of 2016 together with the reviewed Renewable Energy Directive. According to the Commission, the WtE Communication will aim to tackle the following issues:

Recent geopolitical events suggest that Europe will face increasing challenges to energy security in the years ahead.

In particular, a critical element in weaning Europe away from vulnerable Russian gas supplies includes the development of domestic energy sources. While few countries in Europe enjoy large oil and natural gas reserves, many alternative and renewable energy sources exist such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

Against this backdrop, an increasingly viable source of energy available to the countries of Europe is waste to energy. With the increased emphasis on waste management in the EU, especially following the adoption of Directive 2008/98/EC on Waste (the so-called Waste Framework Directive), the member states of the EU and those aspiring to accede thereto must tackle the issue of proper waste management and disposal.

In light of recent technological advances, the ability to safely and cleanly incinerate solid waste or to capture gases produced through the decomposition of landfill waste in order to produce energy offers a compelling approach for those countries in our region to convert landfill and other waste products to energy – thereby essentially addressing two potential problems with one solution.

The regional law firm Wolf Theiss has recently issued a report which analyses the current regulatory and incentive regimes for promotion of WtE projects in 14 countries in central and eastern Europe.

The countries surveyed in the Wolf Theiss WtE Report 1st Edition (2016) are Albania, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Certain of the findings contained in this report are borne out in the statistical analysis contained therein, i.e. that the legislative and incentive schemes currently in place to support WtE projects vary widely across the region despite the existence of the Waste Framework Directive.

For example, Austria has developed a fairly robust body of law around WtE, stemming initially from the Austrian Waste Management Act of 2002 (which pre-dated the Waste Framework Directive) and being further addressed in the Green Electricity Act of 2012. Therefore, it should be seen as no surprise that in 2013, the incineration rate of municipal waste was 37% in Austria.

Only 4% of municipal waste was landfilled due to the introduction of landfill bans (compared to over 70% of waste in Poland, which is currently disposed of at landfill sites without any treatment).

In 2010, Austrian WtE plants produced 0.2 million MWh electricity and 3.6 million MWh of heat. According to data from 2012, 0.07 million MWh electricity and 1.45 million MWh heat were produced from 7.49 million tonnes of thermally treated waste by a total of 59 plants (WtE plants and dedicated refuse derived

fuel plants). According to the last available data from 2010, 10 waste incineration plants and 49 thermal treatment plants are in operation in Austria.

In contrast, in other countries in the same region, the legislation for promoting WtE is less developed and accordingly fewer WtE projects are operating or even planned.

For example in Albania there are a few plants using biomass as fuel for the production of energy, but only one WtE project that uses waste as a form of fuel – this is the Landfill of Elbasan project which is currently in the construction phase. At present, the total percentage of the amount of energy generated by these plants is unknown.

In Romania, there is no specific legislation covering WtE, but rather an amalgamation of legislation intended to generally govern renewable energy (RES) projects.

However, the green certificate incentives previously available under Law 220/2008 to promote RES projects have been significantly reduced in recent years - resulting in decreased investor appetite for all types of RES projects in Romania, including WtE.

For example, at the moment, there is no official statistical data as to the number of WtE projects in Romania. According to the ANRE (Regulatory Authority for Energy) annual report from 2013, only one per cent of the renewable electricity produced in Romania in 2013 resulted from biomass/WtE.

During the period 2008-2012, this percentage was even lower than one percent (1%). Bosnia, on the other hand, compares favourably in this respect, with over 6.5% of total energy consumption coming from biomass energy and with plans to increase this number in the future.

Hence, although progress towards WtE varies across different countries, it is clear that this is a trend which needs to continue - driven by a combination of environmental responsibility and future geopolitical reality.

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