In the run-up to the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit on October 6-7, the organisers have published an interview with Susan Goeransson, Director Infrastructure Europe, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The interviewers were keen to find out about the changes within the investment landscape, the innovation and technologies the industry needs and the advice she would give to a technology company looking for investment and partnerships…
Q: Recently there have been a lot of disruptions in business strategies. What has been the most exciting or surprising investment so far this year, despite the unprecedented challenges?
A: In EBRD’s countries of operations, we note liquidity challenges for cities and municipalities who face declining budgets. EBRD has sought to address this by providing emergency liquidity to both existing as well as new projects to ensure that critical infrastructure services, such as waste collection and environmentally safe waste processing and final disposal, stay on track, but also to ensure that transition achievements remain in place.
In this regard, we’ve been impressed by the resourcefulness of our clients who continue the essential service of waste collection and disposal and implement needed investments.
One such example is Belgrade, where the Belgrade Waste-to-Energy plant, (which EBRD is financing alongside IFC and commercial banks), remains on track:
- EBRD’s Vital Infrastructure support programme: https://www.ebrd.com/news/2020/ebrd-launches-vital-infrastructure-support-programme.html
- Belgrade WtE facility: https://www.ebrd.com/news/2019/belgrade-to-get-new-waste-management-facilities.html
Q: How has Covid-19 changed the waste to energy investment landscape? Has it created new opportunities for viable projects? Can we expect to see a change in investment patterns in the next 3-5 years?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected to budgets of cities and municipalities in EBRD’s countries of operation. While COVID-19 led to budget shortfalls and increasing pressure on our clients to keep basic waste services up and running, the pandemic also shows us that investments in waste infrastructure need more focus on operational resilience.
This relates to having in place contingency plans to help mitigate problems due to enforcement of social distancing in the sector (e.g. waste collection and sorting plants) as well as absenteeism in the workforce due to illness. Other areas were the sector can improve operational resilience relate to vehicle planning and route optimisation, asset management and spare part availability, accumulation and storage of wastes and the provision of proper PPE for waste workers. In many of these areas, digitalisation can play an important role.
We also think the pandemic may result in an increased focus on the healthcare waste sector resulting in opportunities for investments in medical waste and proper healthcare waste disposal, for example small to medium-scale healthcare waste incinerators.
Regarding the patterns for investment, we anticipate that some projects that are still in the early planning phases might be reassessed. That said, we believe that the focus will be on a green recovery, where Waste-to-Energy can potentially play a role.
Q: What areas of the industry are still lacking innovation where you would love to see more technologies? is there untapped potential?
I am not a technical expert, but technology providers have started to approach EBRD’s clients, especially in the more advanced countries, on gasification technologies, including pyrolysis in combination with syngas use for district heating purposes. While these new technologies are interesting, for a project to be bankable, EBRD needs proven and affordable technologies that go beyond pilot facilities.
Q: What advice would you give to a technology company looking for new partnerships/collaborations/investments?
A: If a technology provider is looking to enter into a public private partnership or sell technology, we advise that there be a public tender. Many times we receive requests for financing but if there has not been a public tender, it is very difficult for us to demonstrate value for money, thereby precluding IFI finance. EBRD can support cities to ensure projects are eligible for finance.
In addition, when we finance Waste-to-Energy projects, EBRD looks at the whole waste management system in a given country. In this regard, it is important that the country has a solid waste strategy in place, and can demonstrate how the project fits in with its recycling targets and the circular economy. It is particularly important for a project to demonstrate how it meets the waste prevention and recycling objectives as set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive, even in non-member states. It is important to see investments that help move waste systems “up the waste hierarchy”.
Other things that are important for EBRD as a financier include:
- Proven and mature technology;
- Project affordability (modular approaches can work well here);
- Demonstration how the project addresses a city or region’s needs in light of existing collection, treatment and disposal infrastructure and compared to other alternatives.
Susan will be joining the investor debate at the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit to explore: Defining the current appetite for investment in waste to energy.