Developing new renewable technologies

New renewable generation in Scotland is almost entirely dominated by onshore wind. That’s not only controversial, but also intermittent. Are there other technologies that might deliver viable generation to the grid.

One established technology is solar panels. Angus might not immediately strike you as sun kissed, but there are proposals, for former crop fields within New Mains of Guynd Farm in Angus to be transformed into a park for solar energy production for 25 years. The system will have a capacity of 9.5 megawatts, which could provide power to 2500 homes.

Ron Shanks, managing partner of the developers BWE Partnership indicated that this is not the limit of their ambitions, he said, “We continue to be on the look-out for further solar park opportunities, especially in Angus and Fife, as we believe there is a real opportunity for Scotland to harvest energy from the daylight.”

Cost has always been a barrier to the use of solar panels. However, a breakthrough in the production of solar cells could make the next generation of solar panels cheaper and safer, and promises to accelerate the development of solar energy over the next decade. A technical advance based on an edible salt used in the manufacture of tofu could revolutionise the production of future solar panels to make them less expensive, more flexible and easier to use than the current models.

Jon Major of the University of Liverpool, who led the research said, “We certainly believe it’s going to make a big change to the costs of these devices. The cost of solar is going to match fossil fuels eventually but this is going to get us there quicker.”

Technologies like this also holds out the prospect of greater diversification in the ownership of generation. SmartestEnergy’s Energy Entrepreneurs Report 2014, shows that 169 new independent renewable projects of 50kW or more started in Scotland in 2013, up 50 per cent on the number in 2012. Scottish Renewables said the rise showed that independent electricity generators, including communities, businesses, farmers and public bodies, were increasingly taking their energy future into their own hands. Given the modest scale of total generating capacity this is somewhat over spinning the case, but none the less it is progress.

Diversification or value for money doesn’t appear high on the UK government’s agenda. The National Audit Office has warned that the government may have handed benefits to corporate power providers at the expense of consumers by awarding £16.6bn of renewable energy contracts without putting them out to competitive tender.

A spokesperson said, “As the contracts-for-difference regime has the potential to secure better value for consumers through price competition, committing so much of the available funding through early contracts, without competition, has limited the department’s opportunity to secure better value for money.”

Finance for new projects could come from the Edinburgh based Green Investment Bank. It unveiled a new fund that could give it access to as much as £500 million to help kickstart more renewables projects.

As Scotland doesn’t have a constant stream of sun or wind, a means of storing energy is a vital part of any future energy system that includes a substantial amount of variable and uncontrollable renewable energy. Energy storage provides flexibility and reduces the need to rely on fossil fuel back-up power. While there isn’t one storage technology, if we are to hang our low-carbon future on renewables like wind and solar, then governments need to focus on supporting industry to develop energy storage technology.

So, there are alternatives to onshore wind, but it will require government support to turn them into reality.



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