Biogas produced from anaerobic digestion has the potential to play an important role in Ireland's transition to a low carbon future. In addition to helping decarbonise the energy sector by replacing fossil fuels, the production of biogas can also reduce emissions in the agriculture and waste sectors.
Anaerobic digestion plants can utilise a wide variety of feedstocks ranging from food wastes, to animal slurries to specifically grown energy crops, including silage, in order to produce biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide). This biogas can be combusted in boilers to produce heat, or in combined heat and power plants to produce both heat and electricity.
The REFIT3 support scheme, which is funded by the public service obligation paid by electricity consumers, has supported the development of anaerobic digestion facilities via a high-efficiency combined heat and power tariff. This scheme closed for new applications on 31 December 2015.
The Support Scheme for Renewable Heat has been developed to financially support the adoption of renewable heating systems by commercial, industrial, agricultural, district heating and other non-domestic heat users not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System. The first phase of the scheme, an installation grant for heat pumps, opened for applications in September 2018. The second phase of the scheme, an operational support for biomass boilers and anaerobic digestion heating systems, was approved under State aid rules last month. The completion of the State aid approval process is a key step and I expect to be in a position to announce the opening of the second phase of the scheme in the near future.
Under Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan sets out an allocation of €300 million for the rollout of the SSRH for the period up to 2027.
Electricity output from anaerobic digesters will also be eligible to compete for support under the forthcoming Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. The high level design of this scheme was approved by Government in July 2018 and will also require State aid approval.
Biogas can also be purified by removing the carbon dioxide to produce biomethane and then injected into the gas grid. The draft National Energy and Climate Plan, published last December, includes the potential for 1.6 million MWh of biomethane grid injection by 2030.
A key enabler for biomethane grid injection is the development of grid injection points. Gas Networks Ireland is currently developing Ireland's first injection point and the development of a second will be supported by the Climate Action Fund.
The principal barrier to the development of biomethane grid injection is the significant cost differential between natural gas and biomethane. My Department continues to examine potential options to support biomethane grid injection including how to fund this cost differential.