Renewables round up

The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report into the renewable energy sector in Scotland. It reports that significant growth of the renewable sector in Scotland in recent years has demonstrated the benefit of a supportive policy environment. Electricity production from sources as diverse as wind, hydro and biomass has attracted significant investment. Growth has been strong enough that it is estimated 21,000 people are now employed in the Scottish renewable sector, which produces almost 30% of the UK’s renewable electricity. However, the committee also warns that its successes could now be undermined by changes to UK ¬government policy. Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP said:

“We have urged the government to clarify the future ¬support which will be available to the renewable sector, and set out how they will work with the Scottish Government to develop a clear, long-term plan that will allow renewable energy to remain a central part of the energy mix”.

Part of the challenge is cutting costs. A study by Scottish Renewables claims the total cost of Scotland’s 7GW project pipeline could be slashed by as much as £150 million each year. The biggest saving comes by reforming the planning system to make it “smarter”. The most effective single change would be to use planning guidelines to encourage developers to use the latest technologies featuring larger rotor diameters and hub heights. This alone could cut the levelised cost of energy by as much as £11/MWh.

The problem with ‘smarter’ is that wind farm developers really mean easier. Planning staff have to balance the needs of developers for bigger turbines with the concerns of local residents. The Scottish Affairs Committee recognised the ‘serious concerns’ among many Scottish residents about the impact of onshore wind ¬turbines on the environment.

Much of the output from wind farms can be lost when it is not needed and this can also incur constraint payments. The solution to this is better storage. The Energy and Climate Change spokesperson for the SNP in the Westminster parliament has written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Energy, urging his department to invest in new technologies to encourage the production and storage of renewable energy and electricity. Callum McCaig MP said:

“For the potential of renewable energy to be fully realised we will continue to need newer and better storage technologies; mastering that is the solution to making renewables as attractive financially as they are environmentally.”

Someone may have been listening because National Grid has awarded eight contracts worth a total of £65.95m to energy storage companies to balance system frequency in the UK energy system. This is the first time storage will be used to balance system frequency to protect appliances from damage.

The service is to be provided at an average price of £9.44/MW and will cut costs by £200m. National Grid system operator Director Cordi O’Hara said:

“We are constantly looking to the future to understand how we can make the most of the energy available to us. These awards show that we can work with industry to bring forward new technology and I believe storage has much to contribute to the flexible energy system of tomorrow. This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the industry.”

Some positive news offshore today with the news that a Scottish energy firm’s tidal turbine system, off the Shetland isles, has become the first in the world to deliver electricity to the National Grid. Simon Forrest, managing director of Nova Innovation said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first company in the world to deploy a fully operational tidal array. Deploying the second turbine truly sets us apart and showcases our technology.”

Less positive for offshore wind was the Court of Session finding in favour of RSPB Scotland’s judicial review action against the Scottish Government for failing to fully consider the potentially adverse impact of  four projects on bird life. The Inch Cape project off the Angus coast was a proposal for up to 110 turbines: Neart na Gaoithe east of Fife Ness was up to 75 turbines, and the Seagreen Alpha and Bravo projects off the Angus coast were for up to 150 turbines. Former Scottish Energy Minister Brian Wilson has declared the offshore wind industry in Scotland ‘pretty much dead’ after the decision.

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