Renewables with realism

The amount of electricity generated by renewables in Scotland continues to grow. However, there have been setbacks for marine energy and the falling oil price also has implications for investment.

Renewables generated in Scotland has matched that produced from fossil fuels, although not nuclear, for the first time. Energy from renewable sources accounted for 32% of all electricity generated, equal to the output from oil, coal and gas. Nuclear power stations provided 34.9%.

The final 2013 UK figures also show Scotland continued to be a net exporter of power, with a record 28% being sent elsewhere, mainly to England. The key drivers of the overall rise were a 39% increase in hydro generation and 13% more output from wind.

In another boost to renewables, construction of the largest planned tidal energy project in the world is expected to begin off the Scottish coast. Atlantis, majority owner of the MeyGen project, said the project has the potential to power nearly 175,000 homes through a network of 269 turbines on the seabed at Ness of Quoys in Caithness, north-east Scotland.

However, Tony MacKay, of Inverness-based Mackay Consulants took a more critical view of the industry in the North East Scotland Economic Monthly Report. He also says Alex Salmond’s description of Scotland as the “Saudi Arabia of marine energy” may well come back to haunt him.

He says: “December was a bad month for Scotland’s fledgling marine energy industry, with problems at two of the leading companies. Pelamis Wave Power closed down, with the loss of another 16 jobs bringing the total to 56, and Aquamarine Power laid off more than 30 of their staff. “

He had been a strong supporter of the marine energy sector but had tried to take a realistic approach to its prospects; “That has been in marked contrast with the wildly overoptimistic forecasts of the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Renewables, the industry’s representative body. “

He takes particular issue with the Scottish Government forecast that the marine energy industry could be worth £6.1 billion by 2035, creating nearly 20,000 jobs. He says there is a strong consensus in the industry that some tidal projects are close to becoming commercially viable, but that wave energy has made “very disappointing progress. “

Brian Ashcroft of the Fraser of Allander Institute, has also highlighted some further challenges for renewables in Scotland. He says:

“Scotland’s renewables industry could be affected quite badly if the fall in the oil price is sustained: it will become less price competitive and hence there could be reduced demand for renewable energy and less investment in the industry. It might also deter investment in future renewable technologies such as wave power. And Scotland might suffer disproportionately compared to the UK because of the relatively greater importance of renewables to the Scottish economy. Yet there is a view that oil and renewables are not strong substitutes. If that is correct, with oil primarily used to produce transportation fuels, and renewables primarily to generate electricity, then the impact on the renewables industry may be much less than some, including myself, had previously thought.”

So, while renewables are rightly making progress in Scotland, it remains heavily dependent on intermittent wind power. The next big step requires the development of other renewable technologies such as marine. That development has suffered some significant setbacks.

 

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