Draft Scottish Energy Strategy

The Scottish Government has set a 50% renewable energy target in its new draft energy strategy.

The consultation paper highlights the huge huge shifts in electricity generation in recent years, following the closure of Longannet. There has been a big increase in new supply of renewable electricity.  However, that leaves Scotland with a different kind of energy challenge; one where heat and transport take on even greater significance than electricity.

Choices about the local supply and consumption of energy are broadening, and the patterns of energy use are also changing.  There are opportunities to shape Scotland’s future energy system, and to help tackle the challenges of climate change, affordability of energy, and the efficiency of energy use.

In parliament this afternoon the energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse said:

“To maintain momentum, a new 2030 all energy renewables target is proposed in our energy strategy, setting an ambitious challenge to deliver the equivalent of half of Scotland’s energy requirements for heat, transport and electricity from renewable energy sources. I hope that members will welcome this landmark proposal given the support shown for such an ambition last month in this chamber during the debate on support for Scotland’s renewables sector.”

The plan aims to deliver:
• a modern, integrated, clean energy system, delivering reliable energy supplies at an affordable price, in a market that treats all consumers fairly; and
• a strong, low carbon economy – sharing the benefits across our communities, reducing social inequalities and creating a vibrant climate for innovation, investment and high value jobs.

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The ‘whole system’ view seeks to describe where Scotland’s energy comes from and how it is used. Energy efficiency is to be the cornerstone of this through the SEEP programme.

The ‘stable transition’ is driven by the need to further decarbonise the energy system, in line with emissions reduction targets. However, this still involves a ‘strong oil and gas sector’ and a commitment to support carbon capture. That will be challenging given that the UK government made a complete hash of pilot schemes, as highlighted by the National Audit Office recently.

The ‘smarter model of local energy provision’ means moving away from central provision to local innovation. There is considerable opportunity to create decentralised or distributed energy systems, but progress so far has been pretty slow in real community ownership. 35% of Scotland’s electricity generation still comes from our two nuclear power plants.

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The strategy repeats the commitment explore the potential to create a government owned energy company (GOEC) to help the growth of local and community projects – although still no detail. This will include empowering communities to use the income from energy development to support other communities develop their energy potential. They will also explore the creation of a Scottish Renewable Energy bond in order to allow savers to invest in and support Scotland’s renewable energy sector.

It is important to emphasise that this is an energy strategy, not just an electricity generation plan. So heat and transport use are also important issues.

On jobs, the paper claims the renewable energy industry employs 14,000 people, with up to 43,000 in the wider low carbon and renewable energy economy. To put that in context, 125,000 are employed in oil and gas production.

There is a separate consultation published today on unconventional gas (fracking), so no decision. The paper places considerable emphasis on new energy sources and it is very difficult to see how dirty fuel from fracking fits into this strategy.

Overall, the ambition in the strategy will certainly be welcomed, although there will be some concern that the new strategy is no clearer than the old one on how it will be achieved. In particular, there is no detailed breakdown of what the future energy mix will actually be. Much of Scotland’s energy policy also remains reserved, and the strategy, predictably, if largely fairly, highlights a number of damaging decisions.

There will be a four month consultation closing on 30 May 2017.

Public sector water ‘most trusted’ service in Scotland

Scotland’s public sector water industry rates the “most trusted” sector among Scottish consumers at 68%. In contrast, private sector energy is one of the “least trusted” at 36%.

This is set out in a report by the consumer group Which? on consumer attitudes in Scotland. The report shows some interesting contrasts between the views of consumers north and south of the border.

Public spending cuts topped consumer concerns in both tables, but the concern was much greater in Scotland at 74%, compared to 62% elsewhere in the UK.

Energy prices are a bigger concern in Scotland at 67%, compared to 56% in the rest of the UK. However, 68% have not switched supplier in the past five years and only a quarter who considered it actually switched. Most though the price difference wasn’t worth the hassle.

Nine out of the ten most financially distressed constituencies in Scotland are in Glasgow. Western Isles is the least distressed.

Only 10% of consumers had a problem with public services in the last two years.

So good is public sector water delivery that Scottish Water’s expertise is in demand worldwide. The public corporation’s international arm has generated more than £8 million of turnover, in total, since it was established in 2012. It recorded a £200,000 profit last year.

Maybe public ownership is the right approach for other utilities!

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Keeping the lights on

Keeping the lights on remains a controversial issue with competing views on short term capacity against long sustainable generation.

A group of MPs in the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) argue that Britain could be facing nationwide festive blackouts next winter unless radical changes are made to the UK’s electricity network. They claim that UK government targets for closing coal power stations and expanding renewables to hit climate change goals have rapidly reduced the UK’s generating output. This means severely reduced capacity margins, which are “so tight that National Grid’s emergency power deals have become the norm”. Their report argues that margins have fallen from around 17% during the winter of 2011-12 to around 1% this winter – leaving households with a £30 bill, twice government estimates.

The group’s chair, Grant Shapps MP said:
“While nobody questions the noble intentions behind these interventions, it is clear that a perfect coincidence of numerous policies designed to reduce Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions has had the unintended effect of hollowing out the reliability of the electricity generating sector”.

Unsurprisingly, given the MPs and their funders, they support a market led solution. Shapps said: “A radical rehabilitation of electricity markets is required to bring both consumer prices and capacity concerns under control in the short term”. The government should “work to make it profitable for private companies to invest and innovate in our electricity markets once again”.

National Grid has published the 2016 Electricity Ten Year Statement (ETYS), based on the Future Energy Scenarios (FES), of future transmission infrastructure requirements.

They calculate that future changes will potentially require transmission development with new nuclear plants and high volumes of renewables — connecting towards the periphery of the network.
In contrast, the ageing, traditional plants are usually located close to the demand. This also means more interconnectors around the country. They conclude:

• Potentially higher north-to-south power flows, from Scotland to England, mainly due to future growth in both offshore and onshore wind generation connections in Scotland
• Potentially higher flows across the North of England and the Midlands border, mainly due to future growth in renewables and interconnectors within the North of England region and closures of generation in the Midlands
• Potentially higher power flows from the periphery of the network, mainly due to unprecedented growth in generation, particularly in East Anglia, Humber, the Scottish Highland, the eastern Scottish coastal network and Wales, coming from offshore renewables and Nuclear generation
When there are future high power exports into Europe from the South of England, the current capability of that particular transmission region will be stressed

They also say that the closure of ageing nuclear plants will lead to an increased reliance on renewable plants in Scotland. This will result in higher south-to-north power flows, across the North of England and southern Scotland transmission system, when intermittent renewable plants are unavailable.

In the short term, the latest capacity actions will result in a series of new battery power-storage plants and two small new gas power stations designed to bolster energy supply and head off the threat of shortages. However, hopes of an ambitious “dash for gas” were dashed when no new gas power station of a significant scale won a subsidy contract in the bidding process.

Analysts at Barclays banking group said: “Overall we believe the auction will largely be viewed as a disappointment by the UK government in terms of securing the significant levels of new gas generation capacity they hoped for in order to ensure security of supply”. The £22.50 per kilowatt price is well below the £35-£45 needed to encourage big new gas plants.

Dr Alastair Martin of Flexitricity said the auction results showed the government needed to rethink its push for new gas: “After three years, the capacity market has still failed to deliver a single new-build gas plant.”

Batteries took a much larger share than in previous years, with about 500MW awarded to new storage plants. They can provide a quick response to shortages.

This was welcomed by environmental groups, as dirty diesel generators won a smaller share than in previous years. However, they were disappointed that coal did well, despite the government’s promises to phase out the polluting fuel by 2025. Existing large coal, gas and nuclear power stations will provide 85% of backup power in 2020-21. A WWF spokesperson said: “I do think there is a real danger of coal continuing to linger round on the system, crowding out investment in the more flexible generation our system needs.”

ScottishPower’s Neil Clitheroe said, “Diesel was the winner last year, and coal is the winner this year. Clearing 20 times more old coal than new gas signals a willingness to sweat these assets until the bitter end”. Somewhat ironic after the company’s decision to close Longannet early!

Overall, the energy ‘market’ is still struggling to settle a long term solution to the UK’s energy needs. Generation changes will certainly require new transmission capacity. There is also little consistency in the type of generation needed to manage potential short term shortages.

Tackling fuel poverty

There has been a welcome drop in the number of households in fuel poverty in Scotland. However, it’s still a long way from the eradication that was supposed to happen this year and still higher than the first year statistics were collected in 1996.

Some key points from the report:

  • Between 2014 and 2015 the rate of fuel poverty declined by 4%. In 2015 there were around 748,000 fuel poor households representing 30.7% of all households.
  • Around 203,000 households, or 8.3% were living in extreme fuel poverty in 2015.
  • Just over half of the reduction in fuel poverty rates can be attributed to the drop in energy prices and around a third to improvements in energy efficiency
  • On average the private and the social housing sector have similar rates of fuel poverty: 30 and 33% respectively. There is more noticeable decline in fuel poverty in the social sector, reducing the social-private gap which was seen in the SHCS sample for 2014.
  • In 2015 37% of Scottish homes were in EPC band C or better and half had an energy efficiency rating of 65 or higher (SAP 2012). This is similar to 2014.

Norman Kerr, Director of Energy Action Scotland said:

Just last month the statutory duty under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 for the Scottish Government to eradicate fuel poverty expired and the target was missed.  Two working groups were tasked to advise Scottish Ministers on their next steps and they have made over 100 recommendations.  It is now vital that the Scottish Government uses this advice to develop a new strategy, set a new fuel poverty target and increase funding for its programmes in the upcoming Budget Statement. The progress to date on solving the problem of cold, damp and unaffordable to heat homes must not be lost, but can and should be built upon.”

With energy prices remaining relatively low, spending on energy efficiency remains an important element of a fuel poverty strategy. Twenty businesses have written a letter, with the backing of the Existing Homes Alliance, calling on ministers to increase spending on energy efficiency in next year’s budget to £190m. They say this would allow for existing schemes to be expanded and provide confidence to the sector at the start of the new Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP).In the longer term, the alliance wants spending to be ramped up to an average of £450m a year over ten years.

Another measure that would help with eliminating fuel poverty is ending the price differential between pre-payment meters and direct debit. Prepayment customers represent just 15% of the domestic market, but account for over 30% of all fuel poor households.

A recent UK analysis shows that removing the price disparity between tariffs could lift between 95,000 (12%) and 181,000 (23%) of fuel poor prepayment customers out of fuel poverty and reduce the gap for the remainder.  The widespread adoption of SMETS2 smart prepayment meters (Smart PPM) could deliver real competition in the prepayment market, driving down prices towards parity with direct debit payment.

The reduction in fuel poverty in Scotland is welcome, but there is still much to do when nearly a third of households remain in fuel poverty. This is the time to develop a new strategy and invest in energy efficiency.

Smart and flexible energy system?

There needs to be a radical rethink of the current energy system to squeeze out dirty fuels and accommodate emerging technologies.

 

That’s the conclusion of a recent Policy Exchange report that recommends the removal of several regulatory and policy barriers to create a level playing between cleaner and dirtier forms of electricity.

 

The report’s author Richard Howard said: “Making the power system smarter will also mean it can provide cheaper and cleaner electricity. The current set of policies is encouraging a growth in dirty diesel generators – exacerbating air pollution in UK cities and towns. The Government needs to level the playing field to encourage the use of cleaner technologies such as demand response and storage. This approach is not only greener, but could also lead to savings worth £90 per household per year by 2030.”

 

The report recommends a number of measures including the regulation of polluting diesel generators through carbon taxes and a review of the Capacity Market to ensure that technologies such as storage and demand response are able to access longer contracts. It also urges regulatory changes to remove the ‘double charging’ of environmental levies on storage, and it argues that Distributed Network Operators (DNOs) are outdated models which should be considering emerging technologies for better network management.

 

In the longer-term, the report makes the case for a major reform of the wholesale power market, and a simplification and major overhaul of balancing services managed by National Grid.

 

This report reflects other calls for system change to incentivise energy storage and demand response technologies.

 

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) urged the Government to redesign its Capacity Market to give the market a “clear signal” that demand response capacity is a preferred option to diesel generation plants, and address the regulatory barriers faced by energy storage.

 

The National Grid’s latest Winter Outlook report highlighted the potential for demand response measures to keep the system balanced during the winter months. A separate ECIU study concluded that an increased uptake of demand response would help to keep the system balanced and cut the cost of national energy security.

 

The management consultancy Baringa has warned that the market must learn lessons from the unexpected adoption of photovoltaics to ensure it is “not playing catch up again” with the right market arrangements. They said: “Technology is a key enabler in the energy system. The pace of technological innovation is greater than ever and there are new solutions being developed all the time. But their success will depend on the UK energy market’s ability to respond to these quickly.”

 

This is a timely debate just as the UK government released its long-awaited call for evidence on the transition to a smart and flexible energy system, which focuses on how to create the right market framework for energy storage. It remains to be seen if they are listening.

We need a clean energy future – we don’t need fracking

A busy week for the fracking debate in Scotland, but a decision still looks some way off.

There was some speculation ahead of today’s publication of the research sponsored by the Scottish Government that the minister would announce a bill on fracking. Instead he announced a public consultation will be launched in January, before any decision is made on whether to allow fracking. At the same time, the government will publish its climate change plan and a full strategic environmental assessment. In the meantime the moratorium remains in place.

The independent research published today covers the following issues in relation to UOG:

Public health impacts
Economic impacts
Climate change impacts
Understanding and monitoring induced seismic activity
Understanding and mitigating community level impacts from transportation
Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare.

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse said: “The extensive package of research published today will ensure the public has access to a comprehensive evidence base on the potential health, economic and environment impacts of UOG.”

FoE head of campaigns Mary Church said: “The economic case for pursuing an unconventional gas industry in Scotland simply doesn’t stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment. No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence and decided it’s a good idea.”

These are initial reactions and it will take all the interested parties some time to digest this research. Meanwhile, other studies will add to concerns over fracking. In particular, a report in TheFerret highlights a new study by scientists at Yale University that indicates chemical contamination from the fracking industry could increase the risk of childhood leukaemia.

Scottish Labour is keeping up the pressure on the Scottish Government by lodging a Holyrood member’s bill aiming to “change the law to ban fracking in Scotland”. Labour MSP Claudia Beamish has launched a public consultation as part of her bid to have fracking banned in Scotland. This follows a vote in the Scottish Parliament last June, in favour of an outright ban.

Her Bill has a focus on the climate change implications of fracking. She said: “Scotland relying on fracking for our energy needs will lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy. SNP ministers now face an urgent choice – they can work with Labour to ban fracking, or they can work with the Tories to allow drilling under family homes in parts of central Scotland.”

Climate change is certainly the right focus for a fracking ban. For me there are three key arguments against lifting the moratorium.

Firstly, we rightly follow the precautionary principle in terms of safety. Something our industrial heritage has taught us – just ask anyone suffering from asbestosis or other industrial diseases. Fracking in the wide open spaces of the USA has highlighted significant safety concerns. In Scotland fracking will take place under people’s homes in a densely populated area.

Secondly, there is considerable doubt that gas from fracking is even economically viable. Many experts doubted the financial case, even before the falling price of gas. As for jobs, well, we have seen fanciful claims for other energy sources and few have delivered what was promised.

Thirdly, we don’t need it. We should not compromise Scotland’s climate change targets, or the UK’s broader commitment to limiting global climate change to two degrees. Scotland should be leading the world in moving to clean renewable power, not aiming to extract ever more inaccessible fossil fuels. The risk is that shale gas doesn’t just replace imported gas – it replaces renewables.

The third reason alone is reason enough to ban fracking in Scotland. Launching a consultation alongside the climate action plan is therefore a helpful juxtaposition. At the very least the Scottish Government’s position is significantly less gung-ho than the UK government. However, an outright ban is now the way ahead, so we can concentrate on a clean energy future.

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Now we need a new fuel poverty strategy

The Scottish Government has missed the statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty this year by some distance. So, new reports on fuel poverty should be welcomed, but only if they are quickly followed by a new strategy.

According to the latest statistics (2014), there are 35% or around 845,000 households living in fuel poverty in Scotland, and 9.5% (229,000 households) living in extreme fuel poverty. This high rate of fuel poverty is largely unchanged since 2009, and has doubled since the Scottish Government‟s fuel poverty target was set in 2002.
The Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force reports have been published alongside a Scottish Government research paper on the likelihood of being fuel poor in rural Scotland. This is to help identify and target households in rural Scotland who have a high risk of being in fuel poverty.
The Strategic Working Group has made 4 high level recommendations:
• The fuel poverty strategy should be firmly based on the principle of social justice and creating a fairer and more equal society.
• The fuel poverty strategy must address all four drivers of fuel poverty: income, energy costs, energy performance, and how energy is used in the home.
• Strong leadership and a joined up approach across several portfolios within national and local government are required to develop and implement the strategy.
• The Scottish Government should review the current definition of fuel poverty and establish a policy objective and monitoring programme that addresses all four causes of fuel poverty

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said:
Everyone should be able to heat their home and keep themselves and their families warm, therefore tackling and eradicating fuel poverty is vital and we must make sure action we are taking is making a difference to those that need it most.”

Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group chair David Sigsworth said: 
The report explores why current programmes have failed to eradicate fuel poverty and concludes that experience over many years has shown that energy efficiency improvements, whilst important, are not enough. Recent increases in underlying costs of fossil fuel, due to devaluation, will exacerbate this situation.”

It would be hard to disagree with the recommendations in these reports, although it is strange that the Scottish Government chose to highlight a review of the definition of fuel poverty in their press release. The definition probably does need reviewing, but leading with that gives the impression that the problem can be wished away with a new definition.

High level recommendations are fine, but the test is in the delivery. That requires a new action plan. As Energy Action Scotland director Norman Kerr said: 
There is a wealth of information in the two reports which Ministers must now consider in order to review the fuel poverty strategy for Scotland. The Scottish government, and all political parties in Scotland, acknowledge the problem of fuel poverty and must be given credit for tackling the problem and continuing to fund programmes to that end. However, to meet their ambitions to end the blight of cold, damp homes, more action must now be taken. People across Scotland will want to know that one day the right that everyone has to be able to live in a warm, dry home at a price they can afford will be a reality.”

The acid test of today’s announcement will be if Scottish ministers use these reports to set out a new fuel poverty strategy, which includes a new target date to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland.

Stop start for nuclear power

The energy story of the week is the decision to go ahead with the Hinkley nuclear power station. Theresa May’s grand review of the project, turned out to be a case of the Grand old Duke of York, marching sceptics to the top of the hill, only to march them down again with the flimsiest of assurances.

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian got it just about right. Nuclear power can make a useful contribution to a balanced energy policy, but Hinkley is an expensive white elephant. There are serious doubts over the design and the cost is prohibitive.

As Dave Vince of Ecotricity puts it; “it’s just a bonkers thing to do really, particularly when we have so many clean alternatives which are cheaper, faster, cleaner in wind, solar, tidal, wave, and energy efficiency even.” He pointed to a study which suggested that £1 billion spent on energy efficiency could cut energy consumption in half. Meanwhile, £18 billion is likely to be spent on the construction of Hinkley.

However, nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source, roughly comparable to renewables in terms of total emissions. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables, on the timescale in which we need to act, is hard enough, without setting the additional, unnecessary challenge of also replacing nuclear power as some environmental groups advocate.

A more viable alternative might be small modular reactors (SMRs). It is argued that these offer a form of secure, low-carbon energy, the cost of which is comparable to, if not lower than, larger reactors. They also have smaller up-front costs, shorter build times and the option to gradually scale up capacity. However, they will have to overturn a key principle which has historically underpinned nuclear reactor design – economies of scale.

All of this is pretty academic in Scotland because no one is going to waste time and money battling against the Scottish Government’s opposition to nuclear power. They can build in England and transmit the power to Scotland, when the wind isn’t blowing. However, we should remember that existing nuclear power stations still power a third of electricity generation in Scotland.

The right-wing think tank, Reform Scotland, this week published a paper by Stuart Paton, ‘Power of Scotland’. He argues that the proposed power stations at Hinkley Point and Sizewell in England would generate 6.4MW of power, equivalent to the entire capacity of all the current windfarms in Scotland, without the damaging environmental impact of wind farms. He also argues that the cost difference isn’t valid because the agreed strike price at Hinkley Point of £92.50/MWhr compares favourably with £95/MWhr for onshore windfarms and £155/MWhr for offshore windfarms. However, this conveniently ignores the fact that renewable prices are falling. He does make the valid point that public opinion in Scotland isn’t as anti-nuclear as we might think.

Sadly, an otherwise decent analysis of energy needs in Scotland is undermined by his advocacy of fracking. He fairly criticises the contradictions in the Scottish Government’s policy of supporting oil and gas, but not fracking – but then makes similar contradictions by supporting carbon-free energy production and a dirty emission producing process like fracking. He is certainly right to criticise the UK government’s decision to abandon CCS and to support a greater focus on energy efficiency.

He is right that Scotland has to develop its energy policy beyond a fixation on wind power and point scoring with Westminster. However, this package of contradictory polices isn’t that alternative.

SNP and UK Labour energy plans

The Scottish Government’s plan for the coming year includes few surprises for the utilities sector. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also announces his new energy policy.

Unsurprisingly, the focus is on low carbon energy provision with a new Energy Strategy for Scotland in 2017. One of the aims is to send signals to investors of Scotland’s long-term energy priorities. The new Energy Strategy will reaffirm the Government’s overarching commitment to reducing energy demand and supplying clean energy, driving a host of economic, social and environmental improvements and promoting sustainable, inclusive growth. There is a continuing commitment to the target for the equivalent of 100% of electricity demand to be supplied by renewables by 2020.

The new Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP) will commence in 2018 following new powers for the Scottish Parliament over the regulated energy suppliers. SEEP will be a coordinated programme to improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings in the commercial, public and industrial sectors. £9.5 million of funding will be provided to 11 local authorities to carry out SEEP pilots in 2016-17 with further funding being made available next year.

There will also be a consultation on the regulation of private rented sector housing to increase efficiency standards and heat regulations. They will also consult on phased regulation of existing buildings to bring them up to higher energy efficiency standards as well as look at financial incentives.

£10 million of funding will be made available for community energy through the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) and they will also consult during 2017 on plans to deliver a Scottish Green Energy Bond and a possible government-owned energy company, as part of new models of support for the growth of local, community-led energy.

The government recognises the impact of legal challenges to offshore wind development, while arguing that it continues to be an essential part of Scotland’s future energy requirements. They reference the £2.6 billion Beatrice offshore wind farm and the new European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen bay.

Scotland will play its part in delivering on the Paris climate change commitment. However, the new Climate Change Bill, including a target of reducing actual Scottish emissions by more than 50% by 2020, isn’t in the legislative programme. There will be a consultation early in 2017. The Climate Challenge Fund will make £10 million available to fund projects which deliver the greatest reduction in carbon emissions and support Scotland’s most deprived communities.

Jeremy Corbyn is also going big on renewable energy with a pledge to create an energy policy “for the 60 million, not the big six”, including the creation of 300,000 jobs in the renewables sector. He will set a target of generating 65% of UK electricity from renewable sources by 2030 in a bid to make the country a world leader in green technology.

The delivery mechanism will be through community energy, democratising the energy system. He will create 1,000 energy co-operatives and 200 local, not for profit, energy companies with the support of a network of regional development banks, and legislate to give them the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve. He is also promising to ban fracking and meet our climate change obligations.

In summary, no surprises from the Scottish Government and quite a lot of common ground with the Labour leader over renewable energy. The big difference is in delivery. The Scottish Government’s community energy plans are very modest, while Jeremy Corbyn is going for a very radical shift in energy ownership.

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Renewables round up

The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report into the renewable energy sector in Scotland. It reports that significant growth of the renewable sector in Scotland in recent years has demonstrated the benefit of a supportive policy environment. Electricity production from sources as diverse as wind, hydro and biomass has attracted significant investment. Growth has been strong enough that it is estimated 21,000 people are now employed in the Scottish renewable sector, which produces almost 30% of the UK’s renewable electricity. However, the committee also warns that its successes could now be undermined by changes to UK ¬government policy. Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP said:

“We have urged the government to clarify the future ¬support which will be available to the renewable sector, and set out how they will work with the Scottish Government to develop a clear, long-term plan that will allow renewable energy to remain a central part of the energy mix”.

Part of the challenge is cutting costs. A study by Scottish Renewables claims the total cost of Scotland’s 7GW project pipeline could be slashed by as much as £150 million each year. The biggest saving comes by reforming the planning system to make it “smarter”. The most effective single change would be to use planning guidelines to encourage developers to use the latest technologies featuring larger rotor diameters and hub heights. This alone could cut the levelised cost of energy by as much as £11/MWh.

The problem with ‘smarter’ is that wind farm developers really mean easier. Planning staff have to balance the needs of developers for bigger turbines with the concerns of local residents. The Scottish Affairs Committee recognised the ‘serious concerns’ among many Scottish residents about the impact of onshore wind ¬turbines on the environment.

Much of the output from wind farms can be lost when it is not needed and this can also incur constraint payments. The solution to this is better storage. The Energy and Climate Change spokesperson for the SNP in the Westminster parliament has written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Energy, urging his department to invest in new technologies to encourage the production and storage of renewable energy and electricity. Callum McCaig MP said:

“For the potential of renewable energy to be fully realised we will continue to need newer and better storage technologies; mastering that is the solution to making renewables as attractive financially as they are environmentally.”

Someone may have been listening because National Grid has awarded eight contracts worth a total of £65.95m to energy storage companies to balance system frequency in the UK energy system. This is the first time storage will be used to balance system frequency to protect appliances from damage.

The service is to be provided at an average price of £9.44/MW and will cut costs by £200m. National Grid system operator Director Cordi O’Hara said:

“We are constantly looking to the future to understand how we can make the most of the energy available to us. These awards show that we can work with industry to bring forward new technology and I believe storage has much to contribute to the flexible energy system of tomorrow. This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the industry.”

Some positive news offshore today with the news that a Scottish energy firm’s tidal turbine system, off the Shetland isles, has become the first in the world to deliver electricity to the National Grid. Simon Forrest, managing director of Nova Innovation said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first company in the world to deploy a fully operational tidal array. Deploying the second turbine truly sets us apart and showcases our technology.”

Less positive for offshore wind was the Court of Session finding in favour of RSPB Scotland’s judicial review action against the Scottish Government for failing to fully consider the potentially adverse impact of  four projects on bird life. The Inch Cape project off the Angus coast was a proposal for up to 110 turbines: Neart na Gaoithe east of Fife Ness was up to 75 turbines, and the Seagreen Alpha and Bravo projects off the Angus coast were for up to 150 turbines. Former Scottish Energy Minister Brian Wilson has declared the offshore wind industry in Scotland ‘pretty much dead’ after the decision.