Who's afraid of a small-scale reciprocating engine
One of the key failures of the capacity market were the distortions in policy which created a massive bias favouring “small scale reciprocating engines” over cleaner, low carbon technology solutions. See our post which tracked where all the money went.
But what is a small-scale reciprocating engine?
A reciprocating engine is a broad term to describe all kinds of internal combustion engines. In fact, you’ll have one in your car - if it isn’t electric - and these are bigger versions; turning diesel, or gas, into energy while polluting the air around us.
These engines are placed all around the country, but unlike your car, they produce electricity for the grid by burning either gas or diesel. This releases carbon dioxide and particulate matter, including nitrogen dioxide, which are responsible for at least 29,000 premature deaths a year. These small-scale engines are becoming an increasing part of the problem - especially those installed in built up areas, which directly pollute our communities.
Capacity Market Subsidies
These engines are emerging all over the country thanks to subsides from the capacity market and are indiscriminate on their surroundings. Two generators are being built in the heart of the Peak District National Park, just outside the town of Buxton. Another in Plymouth is built near two schools and an adult community care centre. This 48-diesel engine site consumes an estimated 1.1 million litres of diesel a year. As a comparison, their weekly consumption of diesel would fill up a Ford Fiesta 1.3 million times, taking you the length of the UK almost 10,000 times.
The capacity market was expected to fund these noisy, polluting engines £800m over the next 3 years. Further to this, owners of these plants often benefit from tax breaks, making up to £5m a year on each plant.
The justification given for subsidising these polluting plants is to handle increases in energy demand at ‘peak times’ - when people arrive home from work and turn on their lights, TVs and kettles. To counter this these engines are turned on.
A cleaner alternative
The alternative to running these ‘peaking plants’ as they are known is to employ new technologies such as demand response (DSR) which rely of predictions to understand and prepare for peak times rather than only reacting to them. We should no longer be keeping these polluting small-scale reciprocating engines operational with customer subsidies as a backup to a problem that we have already solved.