ScottishPower announced this week that in the next ten years they intend to invest £3 billion in modernising the National Grid. Not only will this help Scotland substantially in achieving the ambitious 100% renewable energy target for 2020 but it will create around 1500 new jobs in the sector.
The company needs the new staff for several reasons. Firstly there are a number of infrastructure overhauls that need to be carried out to improve the currently antiquated National Grid. Currently there are renewable energy projects across the country which are being constrained by the inadequate level of access the current Grid offers. To combat this ScottishPower intends to upgrade around 500 miles of overhead power lines, upgrade almost a fifth of their substation equipment and almost treble the current capacity of grid links with England to a level of 6.6 gigawatts. ScottishPower has stated that they intend to connect 11 gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid during this 10 year period; an amount four times as much as generated by Longannet Power Station. The planned increase of link capacity to England would be a huge enabler for Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy targets. It would allow for a far larger scale of energy exportation than is currently possible. This is important not only because of the benefits to the Scottish economy that selling large amounts of electricity to England would bring but also because of the energy exchange it would allow. England has taken a different approach to the problem of energy generation, with nuclear power expected to play a big part in meeting English energy needs in the future. 6.6 gigawatts worth of grid links would allow Scotland not only to export energy at times of excess capacity but would allow for importation of nuclear power at peak times if demand were to outstrip supply.
Secondly, research carried out by ScottishPower indicates that 4 out of 5 energy industry employees are due to retire over the next 15 years. As a result of this a new generation of employees; a large number of apprentices and graduates are needed in the industry. The first wave will be recruited over the next three or four years as 200 graduate and apprentice positions are expected to become available.
Investment in the gird is expected to save the Scottish taxpayer a significant amount of money over the next twenty years. Constraint payments (payments made to electricity generators who turn off at times of excess supply as compensation) would increasingly become an issue if large amounts of electricity generation capacity were added to the current grid system, indeed without investment it is estimated that constraint payments would increase to £16 billion by 2030. Savings to the taxpayer are estimated as a result of increased capacity is estimated at £1.6 billion by 2021 and £11 billion by 2030.
ScottishPower chief executive Frank Mitchell released the following statement:
“Massive investment is required to ensure that Scotland’s electricity network is fit for the 21st century.
“It is important that we have a modern and robust network to support our renewable energy ambitions and to provide reliability for those who generate electricity and the homes and businesses that rely on it.
“It is no secret that our industry has an ageing workforce, and we need to encourage new blood in to the fold.”
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond commented on the news:
“ScottishPower’s plans to upgrade transmission will ensure the grid is capable of carrying increasing supplies of clean green energy generated to domestic and European markets
“With plans to harness up to 10 gigawatts of offshore capacity in Scottish waters by 2020, alongside other renewable sources, it will be essential that generators can distribute power to where it is needed.
“These plans will create hundreds of new jobs and underline the company’s commitment to Scotland, as we work together to pursue a low carbon future for these islands and Europe.”
Other industry figures also released their reactions to the news, with some more overwhelmingly positive than others. Neil Stuart, chief executive officer of Scottish Renewables: “This announcement from ScottishPower is not only good news in terms of creating jobs and investment but is also a clear sign that barriers faced by some developers in connecting to the grid will be lifted.”
Norman Kerr, director of Energy Action Scotland: “There are already a number of hidden charges on energy users’ bills and if any further collection of monies to fund this type of work is required, it must be made very transparent.
“This kind of investment has surely been paid by consumers already through the profits made by the fuel companies over the last few years.”
The announcement of these plans, following as it does in quick succession the launch of the Scottish Government’s Renewable Roadmap 2020 and the forthcoming Agri-Renewables Strategy sends a clear sign to investors and developers that Scotland is committed to the development of renewable energy and that industry, government and business are pulling in the same direction. Welcome and encouraging news for sure.