Mixed picture for renewables

A clear majority of Scots want to see the next Scottish Government make renewable energy a priority, according to a poll commissioned by Scottish Renewables. 70% wanted more energy produced from renewables compared to only 19% from fracking.

Scotland is not alone in making progress in renewable energy. In 2014 (latest data), the share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy reached 16% in the EU, almost double that of 2004 (8.5%), the first year for which data is available. Although the report notes that the UK is furthest from meeting its target.

Less encouraging, a string of major wind farms on Scottish islands have been approved but cannot go ahead because the transmission infrastructure to export the power to the mainland does not exist. Extra subsidies have fallen foul of EU state aid rules and last year, Prime Minister David Cameron gave a commitment to resolve the issue.

Industry insiders have been told an agreement has been reached informally but that DECC has so far failed to make a formal bid to go ahead with the subsidy scheme, known as the Remote Island Wind Contract for Difference (CfD). If a deal is done soon the islands will miss out on the next round of contracts. A source said: “Our concern is that DECC no longer wants to go ahead with this. The suspicion is the UK Government is looking to renege on its commitment to find a solution and connect up the islands.”

There is better European transmission news for the north of Scotland. The European Investment Bank is to provide a £500m loan to support the construction of a major new power link that includes a 100 mile-long subsea cable between Spittal in Caithness and Blackhillock in Moray. Built by SSE it could add up to 1.2 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity to the grid.

Transmission director David Gardner said: “This project represents the largest investment in electricity network in the north of Scotland since the hydro development era of the 1950s and we are proud to be an integral part of it; delivering value for money while reinforcing the network, allowing for the connection of new generation and providing a more resilient power supply to those who live and work in the area.”

The tidal power company Atlantis has said it will invest almost £500m in Scottish projects in the next two years. Although this appears to be investment in existing schemes rather than new ones. The deal includes a 100MW development at the Ness of Duncansby in the Pentland Firth and a 10MW project at the Sound of Islay.

Probably the biggest constraint on greater use of renewables is storage. Scottish Power is planning to double the size of its hydro-electric power plant that stores energy as well as generating power. It says it can add 400MW of on-demand electricity by building a new dam in front of the existing one at Cruachan. However, it says the £300-£400m cost is prohibitive unless it can get a guaranteed floor price for its use from the government. In return, Scottish Power says it will accept a cap on profits.

The bigger picture on storage is reflected in a report released by the environmental consultancy Eunomia. They found that the UK’s storage capacity, currently around 24MW, will ‘increase exponentially’ to more than 1.6GW by 2020. The initial surge in 2017 is likely to be driven by the introduction of the National Grid’s Enhanced Frequency Response contracts, which are intended to help maintain grid frequency within an acceptable range. Post-2017, as deployment increases, technology and installation costs are likely to fall further, resulting in another installation surge. Industry trade group the Energy Storage Network has previously lobbied government to establish a 2GW target by 2020.

As always with renewables, it’s a mixed picture. However, with consistent support from the UK government, progress could be that much greater.

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