Scotland’s appetite for renewable energy

It is well known that in 2011 the Scottish Government set the target that by 2020 100% of the country’s electricity demand to come renewable sources. At the same time an interim target was set of 50% of the country’s electricity demand to come from renewable sources by 2015. So as we now enter 2015 how are we doing in terms of reaching this interim target?

The figures for 2015 will not be available until next year however we do have figures in for the first six months of 2014. During this time renewable energy generated 10.3 TWh, nuclear 7.8 TWh (from power stations Hunterston B and Torness), 5.6 TWh from coal and 1.4 TWh from gas-fired power stations. That means that from January to July 2014 41% of Scotland’s electricity was generated from renewable sources. This period therefore saw a growth in wind energy generation of 20% and a hydro energy generation growth of 50%

These figures certainly show we are moving in the right direction at a good pace and we should be in a position to reach our first target by the end of 2015. Speaking of these figures Guy Mortimer Head of Onshore Development Scotland, BU Renewables said “The current Scottish government is very pro-renewables and excellent progress has been made so far towards reaching the target.”

As of June 2014 the installed capacity of renewable electricity was 7,083MW, the largest contributor being wind at 4,920MW followed by hydro at 1,507MW. In order to reach the 2015 target this will have to increase by about 25% however at current growth rates this does look to be achievable.

For example Vattenfall – who currently operate a large onshore wind farm at Edinbane in the Isle of Skye (41.4Mw) is in the process of completing construction on a new wind farm at Clashindarroch in Aberdeenshire of 36.9MW. Vattenfall alone have approximately 0.5GW of capacity in onshore projects when include sites in construction.

There is also significant growth potential in other forms of renewable energy including offshore wind, tidal, and solar. In October 2014 the Scottish Government approved a new project of over 500 wind turbines spread over four offshore wind farms off the country’s east coast.

The waters off the north and north-west of Scotland have some of the strongest tides in Europe and despite the relative lack of sunshine compared to some of our European neighbours, the advancement in solar PV technology has now made this a suitable solution to add to our energy mix.

Earlier this week Borders farmer Iver Salvesen staged an open day at his 600 acre farm near Stow, Galashiells for fellow famers and land owners to view the different renewable energy developments he has on his land. This includes two 5KW and one 2.5KW wind turbines as well as 6KW of solar PV in two installed systems (with another 30KW to be developed soon). Also the site has two 20 tube solar thermal systems and a 16KW ground source heat pump in addition to a 200KW biomass system which serves multiple properties in the surrounding area. Mr. Salveson also makes his own biodiesel from oilseed rape.

These diverse technologies serve his house, office, vehicles and several surrounding properties. The open day was designed to offer independent advice on renewable energy to farmers and land owners throughout Scotland. This event plus others throughout Scotland are coordinated by land agents Smiths Gore and have already helped hundreds of farmers in setting up their own renewable energy projects.

Whether it be through large or medium scale commercial operations or smaller projects run by farmers and landowners Scotland has shown it has the appetite for renewable energy. This coupled with a supporting government has helped us on our way to reaching our interim target of 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

However we are now faced with more obstacles in our quest to reach our overall target of 100% by 2020. As more projects are developed the capacity in the grid reduces making it harder to export the electricity from the point of production – likely to be relatively remote – to the point of consumption. As well as new infrastructure to link many of these remote locations much of the existing network needs to be upgraded to handle this increase in generated power.

This is where the UK government must get involved to ensure that Scotland’s plentiful renewable energy resources can be tapped and the power generated exported to areas of high usage. All of the UK can benefit from these renewable energy sources and the required infrastructure will be a small price to pay to safeguard our long term energy needs.

 

Reducing our fossil fuel reliance

A new study by analysts Cambridge Econometrics, commissioned by RenewableUK, has found that in 2013 electricity generated from wind reduced the country’s dependence on imported coal by an estimated 4.9million tonnes and imported gas by 1.4billion cubic metres.

The report which concludes the study stated that wind energy generated enough electricity to power 6.8million homes in 2013. To power the equivalent amount of homes using coal and gas would have cost the country over £579 million.

Not only is this cost effective but it also makes us more resilient to fluctuating costs of the imported materials and reduces our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

In addition the report looked ahead at the difference between using more wind or fossil fuels would affect the country’s energy needs in 2020 and 2030. According to the study as UK gas supplies from the North Sea dwindle, using more gas would cost £3.1 billion in 2020, rising to £7.4 billion by 2030.

The report concluded that as the cost of generated electricity using wind power is predictable using it is greater amounts effectively acts as insurance against the unpredictable cost of gas and other fossil fuels.

“It is clear that the deployment of wind capacity has, and will continue to, reduce the demand for fossil fuel, most of which is likely to be sourced from imports. Today, wind-powered electricity is displacing imported coal and to a lesser extent gas, but in the future the alternative to wind is much more likely to be more (imported) gas and the trade-off could be substantial.

“Since the costs of wind energy are known once installation is completed, while the costs of gas-fired generation in the future depend on the future gas price, the installation of wind capacity will improve the resilience of electricity generation costs to future volatility in the gas price.

“Future energy and technology costs remain uncertain, but if generation from offshore wind remained more expensive than gas, a choice to invest more in wind would amount to paying an insurance premium to reduce exposure to future gas price volatility.

“Reduced reliance on energy imports and improved electricity generation cost resilience to future gas price uncertainty are two benefits that come with wind capacity deployment. Although there are many other factors to consider when choosing the next generation of electricity power supply technologies, this analysis shows that there would be clear benefits in terms of energy independence and resilience to fossil fuel prices.”

The full report can be read here.

Speaking of the study Phil Summerton a director at Cambridge Econometrics said beyond the environmental benefits brought about by the continued deployment of wind power, this report shows that wind energy is contributing to reducing fossil fuel import dependence and that this contribution will grow in future as wind capacity expands.

“Investment into wind power acts as an insurance policy against uncertainty in future wholesale gas prices and could provide a degree of stability to future electricity prices.”

Maria McCaffery Chief Executive of RenewableUK added: “This report shows how much the UK relies on wind power to reduce our dependence on sources of costly fossil fuels imported from abroad. In these uncertain times, we need to recognise the wider benefits of wind.

“The costs for the entire life of a wind farm are known very early on, whereas the volatile price of fossil fuels can never be accurately predicted. Wind power is already helping us manage future price instability, and industry is confident that by 2020 onshore wind will be the cheapest form of new generation of any form of energy.”

Moving on and Scottish scientists have been working on very different type of solution to help solve any potential energy crisis and alleviate global warming. Using photosynthesis as their base, research scientists at Glasgow University plan to harness photo- synthetic bacteria to create a hydrocarbon substance similar to liquid petroleum.

This new fuel type as well as being renewable would also be storable, potentially in underground systems and the as carbon dioxide would be used in the creation of the fuel overall production would reduce carbon emissions.

Speaking of the research Professor Richard Cogdell, joint project leader and director of Glasgow’s Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology said “The bacteria will take in power, plus carbon dioxide and water, to create an oil-type fuel that can be made into petrol and used in ordinary combustion engines.

“Emissions will be re-absorbed and used to make more fuel. If you didn’t want to make the fuel to burn, it could instead be stored – you could pipe it back into the ground, fill up the oil wells. It is all about storing electricity in the form of chemical bonds.”

“In natural photosynthesis that fuel is carbohydrate, and ultimately that provides all the food – not only for the plants but also for us. So the whole of life on Earth is powered by photosynthesis and as a by-product it splits water and makes oxygen, which provides all the oxygen we breathe. As a further by-product, excess photosynthesis millions of years in the past has been stored as fossil fuels.

“We are essentially now burning the products of photosynthesis millions of years ago. Everything would be ok if it wasn’t for the fact that we are now producing more carbon dioxide than the plants can take back in again. The concentration in the atmosphere has been rising to historic levels in recent times, and this is having drastic environmental effects such as climate change.”

The project plans to use surplus electricity from renewable energy to start the process which in turn will aid the energy harvesting stage. Professor Cogdell added “By tapping in earlier you can have much smaller requirements for surface area in order to harvest either solar energy or windmills.”

The search has now begun to find the most suitable bacteria to carry out the project and once this has been found it is likely that it will be tweaked via genetic engineering to reach the optimum performance stage.

Cogdell concluded by stressing that there would be no risk from the project and the bacteria used would not be harmful “These are naturally occurring, non-toxic, non- pathogenic bacteria, so there would be no risk from them.”

Commenting on the project Glasgow University vice principal Professor Muffy Calder praised the work, stating that it could have vital importance, “Artificial photosynthesis and solar fuels are tremendously exciting developments, with real potential to change how we generate, store and consume energy,” she said.

“They could help us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and thus decrease carbon emissions and slow the progress of global climate change.”

As our demand for energy continues to increase we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to both cut our carbon emissions and also make us less vulnerable to fluctuating costs of imported fuels. The research work currently being done by Glasgow University is commendable and it is our hope that this comes to fruition offering us a genuine alternative carbon based fuel source.

However the research in its primary stage and even if successful, we are still years away from a successful conclusion. We need solutions that can be actioned immediately and renewable energy is providing that solution. Increasing our renewable energy generation cuts our carbon emissions, reduces our reliance on imported fossil fuels and as shown above aids the economy by saving us money. The advances in wind and solar power have brought them from the outskirts of our energy mix to the forefront and although they should remain a primary source in our long term energy strategy they can now also be seen as an immediate solution.

Long term planning benefits all

Denmark installed their first wind turbines in the 1970s when the global oil crisis shocked the import dependant nation into searching for new energy solutions. So it should not come as much of a surprise that almost 40 years on the country has set a new record for energy production from wind achieving 39% of its total electricity generation in 2014 putting the Scandinavian country well on  its way of attaining its target of 50% of its power from renewables by 2020 .

Denmark’s achievement adds to the 2014 renewable energy generation records of Germany and the UK and further ascertains Europe as a leading force in energy generation from wind power. In the UK wind generated enough electricity to power just over 25% of households in 2014 — a 15% increase from 2013. In December, Germany set a new record by generating more wind power, 8.9 terawatt-hours, than in any previous month.

The rise in Denmark’s renewable energy production can be partially attributed to the addition of approximately 100 new offshore turbines and from these in January 2014 the coastal country generated over 60% of its power from wind. A hike of 300% on its production levels of 10 years previous.

“We have set a one-of-a-kind world record,” said Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen. “And it shows that we can reach our ultimate goal, namely to stop global warming.”

Whilst a country the size of Denmark may struggle to end global warming even if was to reduce its emissions to zero it does have the long term target of being fossil fuel free by 2050 which is one of the most ambitious national targets from greenhouse gas reduction.  They have a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990. Currently they are on track to reduce emissions by at least 37%.

By increasing its wind power potential plus converting heat pumps and power plants to use biomass the Ministry of Climate, Energy, and Building expects Demark to achieve over 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, in 2000 its share was only 16%. However Brian Vad Matheisen, professor of energy planning at Aalborg University has stated that in order to truly overall the country’s energy generation systems it needs to switch its heat pumps from fossil fuel to renewable energy.

At present when the wind generates a surplus of energy any excess is sold to neighbouring countries. By moving the heating sector to energy from renewable sources energy companies would have an outlet for any surplus generated which will go a long way in assisting reaching the targets set.

Denmark also benefits from its early investment in wind power developments economically. It has become a leading manufacturer of wind turbines with major companies such as Siemens and Vestas based there. At present nine out of ten offshore turbines are manufactured in Denmark.

Staying in Europe and Germany’s renewable industry celebrated a further milestone this week as new report stated that the country’s offshore wind industry now has more than 1GW of capacity. The report by Deutsche WindGuard stated that by the end of 2014 Germany had 258 offshore turbines providing 1,049.2MW of generation capacity. Also in 2014 the offshore wind generation capacity more than doubled with 142 new turbines with a capacity of 528.9MW connecting to the grid last year. The capacity is also expected to double again in 2015 with the report confirming that a further 285 turbines with a capacity of 1.3GW have already been installed and await grid connection with foundations for another 220 turbines already completed.

Commenting on the report Norbert Giese, chairman of VDMA Power Systems steering committee from the offshore wind industry and board member of the German Offshore Wind Energy Foundation said “Out at sea we have now officially broken through the gigawatt barrier for installed capacity. This corresponds to an investment volume of around €4bn. In addition, turbine, foundation and grid technology exports are also in the billion-euro range. In 2015 we are expecting up to 2GW of offshore wind capacity to be newly connected to the grid. By the end of 2015, we will see a total of some 3 gigawatts installed capacity online, which corresponds to an investment of €10bn euros in the domestic market of the German offshore wind industry.”

President of the German Wind Energy Association BWE Hermann Albers said the report confirmed the strength of Germany’s offshore wind industry but cautioned that government clarification of long-term policy was essential to its continued growth and success.

“The offshore technology, which has great potential for realising the energy transition and ensuring security of supply in Germany, is on the edge of a decisive breakthrough,” he said. “More than ever, a reliable legal framework is decisive for the future development. Only when investment security is ensured, it will be possible to fully exploit the cost reduction potential, maintain Germany’s leading technological position, and harness export success on a growing global market. It is therefore task of the German government to urgently provide a solid and fair legal framework for the electricity market of the future.”

This was countered by a statement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the German Renewable Energy Federation (BFE) in which she stated that she would prioritise plans for a new transmission infrastructure from the renewable energy developments in the north of the country to the industrial heartlands of the south. She also stated that she was wary of potential policies for a capacity mechanism which could bail-out loss making fossil fuel power plants.

Last year the German government revealed new policies aimed at accelerating its Energiewende transition through increased investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and electric vehicles. Government ministers are also considering a raft of new policies created to ensure that adequate power remains on the grid as a number of outdated fossil fuel power plants are forced to shut down for decommissioning.

As previously mentioned the renewable energy industry in the UK also had a record year in 2014 however we are in danger of being left behind. As our European neighbours continue to build upon the success of 2014, due to a lack of clear government policy the industry in the UK is beginning to show signs of stagnating.  Now is not the time to drag our heels. Our energy needs are only going to increase and at the same time we must set about making a real difference in reducing our carbon emissions.

Renewable energy and in particular wind power is only one factor in achieving this but it is now at an advanced stage in terms of technology and as a result costs are tumbling. Further investment in transmission and storage are essential to reaching our targets by this method and this should be maintained by progressive government policy. Our goals are achievable and the rewards will benefit the entire nation but to do so both the government and the industry must work together positively. In the long term, it will be worth it.

Reducing our carbon footprint

New official statistics from National Grid show that wind generated clean electricity was produced in record amounts in 2014. It generated enough electricity to power more than 6.7 million households in the UK – just over a quarter of all homes – an increase of 15% from the previous year.

All wind turbines from large wind farms to single turbines either connected directly to the grid or to local networks generated 9.3% of the UK’s total electricity supply last year, up from 7.8% in 2013.

In December a new monthly high of 14% of all UK electricity generated by wind was achieved beating the previous high of 13% set in December 2013. Also the quarterly record of 11% set in the final three months of 2103 was eclipsed in the final three months of 2014 setting a new record of 12%.

Speaking about these new statistics RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith said: “It’s great to start 2015 with some good news about the massive quantities of clean electricity we’re now generating from wind, with new records being set month after month, quarter after quarter, and year on year, as we increase our capacity to harness one of Britain’s best natural resources.

“We’re now into a General Election year so we know that the political temperature is set to carry on rising over the next few months. The cost of energy has become an important political issue, so now would be a good time for voters, prospective parliamentary candidates and MPs to take account of the fact that onshore wind is the cheapest form of renewable energy we have at our fingertips.

“So if we’re serious about cutting bills and securing an indigenous supply of clean power all parties need to support it in the months ahead”.

As previously discussed 2014 was also a fantastic year for renewable energy in Scotland and new figures published last week expand on that. For example in December 2014 wind turbines alone provided around 1,279,150MWh of electricity to the National Grid, enough to supply the electrical needs of 164% of Scottish households, that’s enough for 3.96 million homes – and a record for 2014. Maximum output was on 10th December, when generation was an estimated 65,970MWh, enough to supply 6.34 million homes for the whole day – equivalent to 262% of all Scottish households and wind turbines generated enough power to supply over 100% of Scottish households on 25 out of the 31 days of December.

Analysis for the whole of 2014 found that wind turbines provided an estimated 8,958,130MWh of electricity to the National Grid, or an average of 746,510MWh each month – enough to supply the electrical needs of 98% of Scottish households, or 2.36 million homes and that wind generated enough power to supply over 100% of Scottish households during six out of the 12 months – January, February, March, October, November, and December.

Homes fitted with solar PV panels in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness enjoyed enough sunshine during June and July to generate an estimated 100% or more of the electricity needs of an average home, and 60% or more in the same four cities during March, April, May, August, and September and similar results were attained for homes with solar hot water panels with June and July achieving 100% of hot water needs and April, May, June, and August achieving 60%.

WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks commenting on this new data said: “Without doubt, 2014 was a massive year for renewables, with wind turbines and solar panels helping to ensure millions of tonnes of climate-wreaking carbon emissions were avoided. With 2015 being a critical year for addressing climate change internationally, it’s vital that Scotland continues to press ahead with plans to harness even greater amounts of clean energy.

“December turned out to a record-breaking month for wind power, with enough green energy generated to supply a record 164% of Scottish households with the electricity they need. Even on calmer days, wind still supplied the equivalent of over a third of electricity needs of every home.

“For 2014 as a whole, on average, wind power generated enough to supply the electrical needs of 98% of Scottish households, with six months where the amount was greater than 100%. And, in the tens of thousands of Scottish households that have installed solar panels saw them meet two-thirds or more of their electricity or hot water needs from the sun during several months of the year, helping those homes to reduce their reliance on coal, gas, or even oil.”

Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy added: “We’re famous in the UK for our obsession with the weather, but how often do we see it in a positive light? At a time when the world is desperately looking for low-carbon sources of energy, the data show that clean renewables are already playing a significant and growing role in Scotland’s, and the rest of the UK’s, overall energy mix. We just need to blow their trumpet a bit more.

“Scotland is clearly leading the way when it comes to wind power. However, despite misconceptions, Scotland also has potential for sun-loving renewables too. The data clearly show that there’s plenty of sunshine to meet a significant proportion of an average family’s electricity needs for most months of the year – even during some of the winter months! With hundreds of thousands of roofs, it would make sense to tap more of the sun’s power.”

A further report from DNV-GL and backed by WWF investigated the viability of the Scottish Government’s current policy target of decarbonising the country’s electricity generation by 2030. This policy is dependent upon fully operational carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology however the report concludes that CCS is not required to decarbonise Scotland’s electricity generation and concludes that  “a renewables-based, efficient, flexible, electricity system is perfectly feasible by 2030” taking into account Scotland’s abundant renewable energy sources.

The report also calculates the cost of meeting the 2030 target with a renewable energy based system is £663m a year, a good deal less expensive than the 1.85bn cost of the CCS system. Paul Gardener, lead author of the report stated “Our technical analysis shows that a system with an extremely high proportion of renewable electricity generation located in Scotland can be secure and stable. There is no technical reason requiring conventional fossil and nuclear generation in Scotland.

“Scotland has plenty of renewables in the pipeline to cut the carbon from its power supply by 2030, particularly if we see progress on reducing electricity demand. And crucially, Scotland can continue to be an electricity exporting nation.”

The report does come with a warning though. It confirms that new policies to promote more renewable energy developments in Scotland are required if the country is to achieve the target by this method. This includes more funding, new grid connections and initiatives to reduce energy demand, all of which we have argued for on many occasions.

WWF Scotland’s Climate and Energy Policy Officer Gina Hanrahan said “The report shows that not only is a renewable, fossil-fuel free electricity system perfectly feasible in Scotland by 2030, it’s actually the safe bet,” she added. “Pursuing this pathway would allow Scotland to maintain and build on its position as the UK and Europe’s renewable powerhouse, cut climate emissions and continue to reap the jobs and investment opportunities offered by Scotland’s abundant renewable resources.

“We need to see the phasing out of conventional generation in Scotland, clarity about the future market for renewables across the UK and more emphasis on demand reduction and storage in Scotland so the vision can be achieved.”

We have often spoken of the achievements of the renewable energy industry in this country in glowing terms and how we can look upon what we have achieved so far with pride. We have also countered that by stating that it shouldn’t end here and that we must push on in order to reach our ultimate goal. The results from last year show that electricity generation from renewable sources is both proven and reliable plus the cost is continuing to fall.

Some are saying the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources last year shows that we do not need more developments but the potential reduction in carbon emissions nullifies that argument. We must reduce our carbon footprint not only to reach the targets set by the EU but because it is the right thing to do and although CCS is not a pipedream, the technology is in its infancy and as a result it is both unproven and expensive. It is the policy makers that hold the key to maintaining a long-term strategy to ensure that we reduce our carbon emissions by 2030. They must seriously consider the most suitable method for attaining this and regardless of whether it is a vote winner or not realise generating electricity from renewable sources is most reliable and cost-effective option.