Processors paying the price for push to renewable energy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Energy, Renewable energy

The promotion of renewable energy is adding significantly to
processing costs, according to an industry body that represents
major energy consumers such as food packagers and chemical
processors.

In addition, the International Federation of Industrial Energy Consumers (IFIEC) claims that renewable energies can only benefit the energy situation when full-scale subsidies are not required.

The IFIEC was responding to an international conference in Germany aimed at promoting the development of green energy as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of climate change. The German environment minister Jürgen Trittin said that his country has already installed more than 14,000MW of wind power capacity, making it the world's biggest wind farm developer and providing about 5 per cent of the country's electricity.

However, the IFIEC claims that financial surcharges have added about €4.50 a megawatt hour to German electricity prices. The body is quoted in the Financial Times​ as saying that most European Union schemes carry out this approach by simply guaranteeing premium tariffs for electricity generated from renewable energies. But counting capacity without any reference to efficiency criteria, it says, can be misleading to consumers.

"The reality is that, all too often, they are required to pay high rates for inefficiently generated power,"​ said the IFIEC. "In addition, consumers are also paying to maintain fossil-based generation capacity necessary to guarantee supply during periods when renewables cannot deliver."

However, there is real pressure on food processors to adopt renewable energy strategies. The UK's environmental regulator has cautioned food and drink manufacturers that if they fail to comply with essential environmental legislation they risk hefty fines. Businesses also risk missing out on the growing commercial benefits of good green credentials.

But the problem for food processors is that energy consumption is still necessary right along the production line. A chip manufacturer such as McCain for example needs steam power for peeling, chipping and cooking. Abiding by stringent emission regulations and achieving production cost cuts must therefore be weighed up with the ongoing need for energy.

However, a report by the International Energy Agency reveals that government spending in Western countries on renewable energy research fell by nearly two-thirds to $696m between 1980 and 2001. "This decline appears to be inconsistent with presumed political intentions in many IEA countries to increase the share of renewables in the total primary energy supply,"​ it said.

Food manufacturers are therefore being squeezed between political and environmental pressure to adopt renewable energy and the economic need for cheap sources of efficient power. As a result, plant managers are looking down the entire production line to see how energy savings can be made.

Most plants that operate boilers now install flue gas heat exchangers. Equipment provider Loos claims that flame-tube smoke-tube boilers of all sizes can generally be easily retrofitted with flue gas heat exchangers. The efficiency of a boiler system can be increased by up to 7 per cent in dry operation and up to 15 per cent in condensation operation.

"We have now achieved standardisation in this field,"​ said Loos Europe sales manager Franz Doerr. "This means that the cost of a flue gas heat exchanger is coming down. We can also integrate the exchanger into a boiler system, with saves on installation costs. I'd estimate that with the energy savings made, the pay back time of installing a heat exchanger is about two years."

The Environment Agency is working with food manufacturers across the UK to clarify the legal situation of plants operating in the food and drink industry. To aid the agency, NetRegs​, an information website, has been set up.

The site covers everything from the production, processing and preserving of meat and poultry and the manufacture of dairy products and beverages to fish and shellfish processing and the manufacture of prepared animal feeds.

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