Renewables round up

The firm Pilot Offshore Renewables plans to moor eight floating wind turbines ten miles off the Kincardineshire coast, south of Aberdeen. It could be the world’s first floating wind farm.

The company wants to start construction in the second quarter of 2016 and operating by the end of 2017. Floating wind farms have the advantage of being able to operate in deeper water where they are less likely to generate complaints about their visual impact. Not just Donald Trump!

The UK government has also approved eight projects, from 57 applications, to receive Contracts for Difference (CfDs), which guarantee prices for renewable energy suppliers. These could cost up to £1bn each year in subsidies, but the government says they would encourage firms to invest much more than that in low-carbon electricity generation. The Beatrice offshore wind in the Outer Moray Firth is the only Scottish project.

Friends of the Earth said the projects would attract billions of pounds of investment and provide thousands of new jobs. A spokesperson said, “It’s good that the government recognises renewable energy to be our best, and most available, solution.”

A report from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Sussex says that initiatives such as ­community renewables could make a big difference to climate change and energy security. But government needs to do more to support them. It found that, “While community energy has successfully grown up in between the cracks of the mainstream energy system, it needs to be nurtured and supported … if it is to continue to grow and develop.”

Alasdair Cameron, ­at Friends of the Earth, said: “Instead of undermining investment in solar and wind, ministers must do much more to help communities reap the benefits of clean power. A good place to start would be to enable schools to borrow money to afford the up-front cost of solar panels.”

However, solar panels have been criticised as a subsidy for the rich homeowner at the expense of the poor. But Christopher Emmott at Imperial College argues that it doesn’t have to be that given the range of ways they can be introduced, he concludes:
“So a subsidy for solar power doesn’t have to be a subsidy for the rich. Rooftop solar can help grow local economies, provide local jobs and increase local spending. At the same time it can provide a bulwark against energy poverty through the work of community energy co-operatives and installations that provide power to social housing. Photovoltaics are nothing less than a democratising force on the energy supply system – but this requires people, communities and companies to act together to make the most of it.”

Another renewable solution could be heat pumps. A heat pump collects warmth from cool water in rivers and lochs and delivers it at a higher temperature through compression. The process requires some imported energy, usually electricity, but returns the equivalent of three units of heat energy for each unit of electricity used.

This technology devised by physicist Lord Kelvin 150 years ago could save Scottish businesses £250 million annually. A new report, commissioned by Glasgow University and due out in June, estimates that heat pumps could shrink the nation’s carbon footprint by the equivalent of 260,000 around-the-world car journeys every year.

Finally, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has announced the adoption of a set of principles designed to maximise community benefit from onshore renewable energy developments. These are aimed at delivering the 500 megawatts of community and locally owned renewables target by 2020.

The key principle is the promotion of a national community benefits package rate equivalent to at least £5,000 per Megawatt per year, index linked to inflation for the operational lifetime of the development. So for example, a 20 Megawatt windfarm of eight turbines will generate at least £100,000 a year for the local community.


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