Renewables getting into a spin.

The Scottish Government’s target of generating all of Scotland’s electricity requirements through renewable energy has been given a boost by a wave power study. Even if it’s hard to see much power being generated by their target date of 2020.

Research shows that tides in the Pentland Firth, have the potential to generate 1.9 gigawatts of electricity, enough to meet the needs of more than a million households. Professor Alistair Borthwick, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, said: “Our research builds on earlier studies by analysing the interactions between turbines and the tides more closely. This is a more accurate approach than was used in the early days of tidal stream power assessment, and should be useful in calculating how much power might realistically be recoverable from the Pentland Firth.”

More positive news for renewables in a report for Scottish Renewables that shows more than 540 Scottish-based firms now employ a total of at least 11,695 workers in the sector. Most are employed in the central belt and job growth is faster than the Scottish economy as a whole. Joss Blamire, senior policy manager for industry trade body Scottish Renewables, said: “These latest figures show the renewables industry has seen steady growth in the number of people being employed, despite an uncertain year. The breadth of job opportunities for project managers, ecologists and engineers has led to a wide range of people seeing renewable energy as a sector where they can use their skills.”

On a less positive note councils have pointed out that wind turbines are not recycle able. There are currently very limited options for recycling rotor blades, which are generally made from fibre-reinforced polymer composites. Mechanical shredding and thermal processing techniques are costly, leaving landfill as the most cost-effective solution.

The world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas, said there are solutions for recycling of resin composite materials, but these are generally still at an experimental stage. Scottish Renewables claimed that there was time to develop these solutions before sites need to be decommissioned. However, wind farm campaigner Derek Ross said said wind farm projects failed to be “green”, highlighting reliance on using materials from overseas, extraction of peat from the ground, the potential burial of rotors and the visual impact.

Overall, the wave power study is another description of the potential for renewables, although still some way off being viable. More jobs is always good news, but the numbers are well below some of the claims being made for jobs growth at the outset of the renewables journey. The recycling of turbines is a reminder that we have to look at the complete cycle of a generating process when considering the carbon footprint.

The sector is good at promoting itself, but we should always take a somewhat more sceptical look at its output.

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