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Better support for renewable energy decision making

Cow at Hartwood farm (c) James Hutton Institute
"Different results can then be considered making the analysis more useful to potential investors and policymakers"

Anaerobic digestion, a process by which micro-organisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen leading to the production of biogas and bio-fertilisers, is an increasingly relevant source of renewable electricity and heat energy with a low carbon footprint. As the UK and its devolved administrations press ahead towards renewable energy targets and low-carbon economies, there is a need for better support tools to help policymakers put the appropriate policies and incentives in place.

With support from the Macaulay Development Trust, researchers at the James Hutton Institute are developing decision support tools to help policymakers better analyse the economics of such renewable energy sources.

Dr Yakubu Abdul-Salam, a TB Macaulay Research Fellow based at the Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group in Aberdeen, has created new tools to enable a more in-depth analysis of economic variables related to the production of renewable energy from anaerobic digestion.

Salam explains: “In March 2015, my colleagues and I started a project to examine the economic viability of an anaerobic digestion plant at the James Hutton Institute’s Hartwood farm, my role focusing on the development of economic models.

“I soon realised that all available decision tools had important limitations, as they were based on a deterministic approach, which means they typically used a single value for particular inputs, whereas we know that real-world values can fluctuate.

“That is why I set out to develop a tool with a stochastic approach, allowing for multiple simulated cases of a single project to be analysed. Different results can then be considered making the analysis more useful to potential investors and policymakers.”

Salam’s tool, called SADEAT (short for Stochastic Anaerobic Digestion Economic Assessment Tool) aims to make it easier for farmers, private firms, academics and policymakers to guide investment decisions for anaerobic digestion projects and explore policy options for the industry. The tool was recently used in a peer-reviewed scientific publication looking at the economics of anaerobic digestion on marginal land in Scotland and its implications for energy policy in Scotland and the wider UK.

SADEAT was written using MATLAB software and benefits from a user-friendly interface. Its calculations are based on four economic models, each outputting an indicator of the economics of a user-specified anaerobic digestion project. The four indicators are net present value, modified internal rate of return, breakeven electricity price and breakeven heat price.  

The software is available as a free download under GNU General Public Licence terms and is currently compatible with Windows only. A web-based version of SADEAT and other tools being developed by Salam are also available to access online. For further information please see SADEAT’s application page or Salam’s staff page.   

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Printed from /news/better-support-renewable-energy-decision-making on 30/11/23 06:09:49 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.