Greening the gas grid
Biomethane gas, break crops, anaerobic digestion are all the elements that are helping to transform how we deliver clean energy. We spend a lot of time at M&S optimising our existing green initiatives, yet there are still those innovations that change the way we, and the wider industry, approach energy procurement.
M&S recently became the first retailer in the UK to source biomethane gas to heat its stores, as well as the first FTSE 100 buyer of the Biomethane Certification Scheme. The move into green gas is the next big step in our bold Plan A energy commitments.
We already source our electricity in the UK & the Republic of Ireland from renewable sources, a quarter of which are small-scale. Our entry into the green biomethane gas market represents the next chapter towards fulfilling our commitment to ensuring 50% of the energy used in M&S buildings comes from certified green biomethane sources by 2020. The scale of the prize is significant.
The biomethane gas will be produced at an anaerobic digestion plant near Doncaster, using break crops (non-commercial crops used for soil regeneration) from carefully chosen farms across Yorkshire and the North East that fit with M&S’ sustainability criteria. The gas is then pumped into the national grid and M&S benefits from the carbon reduction.
The deal is for 36GWh of biomethane certificates, the equivalent amount of energy to heat 15 M&S Simply Food stores all year round, and will reduce M&S’ carbon footprint by over 6,400 tonnes annually.
So what makes biomethane so special? In principle, the benefits are simple: when it comes to the natural gas grid, biomethane production is the only truly green option. It can be produced in the UK, presenting no need for the purchase of overseas carbon-offset certificates. It is both green and homegrown.
Despite the technology behind the production of biomethane, this is a story about making markets. For the first time, break crops are being given a route to market that didn’t previously exist, creating significant revenue for farmers and the agriculture industry.
With this level of commitment, innovation risks need to be managed, which we are doing through two key cornerstones: collaboration and accreditation.
Any new market development or strategic initiative is usually only as good as the parties and people involved. M&S has invested in green energy sourcing expertise since 2006 which has helped to pioneer development on renewables and recognised that the next big thing was the greening of the gas grid. Having engaged with experts in the field, a number of game-changing deals have been agreed with supplier partners to make the deal a reality.
Ensuring we had a fully auditable certification scheme in place, for reporting purposes, was the other must have, de-risk factor. Traceability is essential. The independent Biomethane Certification Scheme (BMCS), run by Green Gas Trading, was set up to provide both a credible process for certifying biomethane and a trading platform for certificates.
The certificates represent the green, or ‘bio’, element of the biomethane produced at the plant, rather than the physical commodity gas itself. The certificates can be traded separately and allow M&S to demonstrate that they have decarbonised their existing gas supply, without affecting any existing contractual arrangements in place across UK stores.
This legal framework is likely to become industry standard and will provide M&S with a competitive advantage in accelerating a route to market for biomethane developers.
As firsts go, breaking the tape on biomethane really marks the start, not the finish.
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