Behind the scenes with the most active investor in the UK green economy

28 Dec 2016

An artist’s impression of the Full Circle Generation facility. Image:

Emily McDaid talks to the managing director of the UK’s Green Investment Bank about the future of green energy.

UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) was established in 2012 by the UK government to invest into renewable energy projects, including sectors like bioenergy and offshore wind. Given a total of £3.8bn, so far, £2.7bn of that has been invested in more than 80 projects across the UK. At least one-third of the bank’s waste and bioenergy investments are located in Northern Ireland.

“We invest in as many different projects as we can,” said Chris Holmes, managing director and head of waste and bioenergy at GIB.

“We’re very active in the area of anaerobic digestion, which many farms here in NI are implementing to make good use of the silage from their land and to give back to the environment through high-quality digestate and green energy. These farmers can generate a reliable income from the clean production of electricity.”

So far, GIB has invested around £95m in renewable energy projects in Northern Ireland, spreading those funds across 13 ongoing projects. In total, with all co-investors taken into account, these projects have attracted more than £240m in investment into Northern Ireland.

One of those projects is the Evermore Energy biomass CHP facility in Derry, a project first conceived by two brothers in 2009, and now operational.

Evermore Energy investment graphic (GIB/UK WREI)

Image: GIB

GIB has also helped to fund the Full Circle Generation project, a deal that closed late in 2015, located near Belfast City Airport. At this facility, up to 180,000 metric tonnes of sorted household waste are used to make electricity. Some of that power (reportedly 14.85MW of energy) will supply Bombardier’s nearby manufacturing facilities, where they make wings for C-Series aircraft.

Holmes said, “This is a great example of how we can drive down cost for local industry, while producing clean energy. I’d consider us a very large backer of waste and bioenergy projects in Northern Ireland.”

‘Wind power is exciting because costs are being driven down through the supply chain’

When asked which green energy areas are most exciting right now, Holmes said, “Wind power is exciting because costs are being driven down through the supply chain, certainly in onshore, and now the same is happening in offshore wind. In the UK, we have some of the best wind resources in the whole world and are well positioned to be a world leader in wind energy.”

Northern Ireland Renewables Obligations incentives will close to new applicants in 2017, and this will impact GIB’s market.

“It represents the closure of a support system. It’s up to the sector how to react to that, “ said Holmes. “Can we wean ourselves off subsidies? It’s forcing the sector to think outside the box and create financially efficient technologies.”

According to Holmes, many players in this market are institutional investors, who would invest in large-scale construction projects. “We’ve co-invested with more than 100 partners and they originate from all ends of the market; angels right up to large investment groups,” he said.

As technologies prove their worth, investors get interested,” he added.

For Holmes, green energy is “incredibly important”, particularly in terms of achieving the right mix of energy to power the UK.

“Coal-fired power stations will all be closing by 2025 per government targets. That leaves a huge requirement for energy production that feeds a stable baseload. This is what’s pushing nuclear power stations like Hinkley forwards,” he said.

“In the clean energy landscape, it’s also important that we can harness intermittent power generation, and energy storage projects are critical in that regard.”

He continued, “A waste energy plant can operate for 8,000 hours a year, whether it’s sunny, raining or snowing outside, generating green electricity. That waste would previously go into a landfill. We need to make the most of what we already have.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland