A Scottish Solar Community

In Edinburgh the local council recently announced a new project designed to install community owned solar panels on buildings around the entire capital. The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative (ECSC) supported by Energy4All will work in partnership with the council on the project which is believed to be the largest community owned urban renewable energy initiative in the UK.

The scheme is expected to include public buildings including schools, community and leisure centres, and libraries, will be selected to site the technology which the project claims will bring major environmental and social benefits to the area.

The generated energy will help reduce the amount the council spend on electricity whilst at the same time reduce the city’s carbon emissions by an estimated 850million tonnes per year. The specific building used in the scheme will benefit directly from cheaper electricity from the panels which is expected to result in significant savings. Surplus energy will be sold to the National Grid and profits are to be reinvested locally via a new Community Benefit Fund.

Speaking at the launch of the project Councillor Adam McVey Vice Convener of Transport and Environment said “This is fantastic news for Edinburgh and will bring long term environmental, social and economic benefits. Community energy co-operatives allow local people to play a part in building a greener, more sustainable environment whilst raising awareness more generally about the importance of being energy efficient. We are aiming to meet our target of reducing Edinburgh’s carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and this project is an important step towards us achieving this.”

Shares will be offered to all who wish to get involved in the scheme however priority will be given to residents of Edinburgh. Members will receive annual interest on their investment, capped at 5% and increasing with RPI, with the surplus invested in the community benefit fund.

It is also planned to use the solar panels as an educational tool for projects to help engage local pupils in environmental issues. Each device will have a real time display of amount of energy generated which will be displayed on the buildings and will also be accessible to pupils online.

Dr Richard Dixon, Chair of the ECSC, said: “2015 is an important year for climate change, with the world’s nations supposed to agree new global targets in Paris at the end of the year. Around the world local people are creating their own solutions to climate change by investing in local renewable energy schemes.

“The Edinburgh scheme is a winner all round because it will reduce climate emissions and provide cheap energy for schools and other Council buildings. Local people will also get a decent return on any money they choose to invest.”

Lang Banks director at WWF Scotland welcomed the project and said more property owners should follow the council’s example and make the switch to renewable energy.

He added: “Using council property to install solar panels on is a smart move that over their lifetime will help the capital to avoid thousands of tonnes of climate change emissions. In addition to improving the energy efficiency of buildings, we’d very much encourage all local authorities to look into the possibility of using their land and buildings to generate clean energy.

“Solar power is growing in popularity in Scotland, especially in urban areas where alternatives such as wind turbines might not be possible. For the one thousand Edinburgh households that have already installed solar panels, during April there was enough sun to effectively meet all of their electricity or hot water needs, helping to reduce their reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

“With these sorts of figures, every home, business or council with a south-facing roof should seriously consider switching on to the full potential of solar power.”

Analysis by WWF Scotland of solar data for Scotland by WeatherEnergy found that during April 2015 for homes fitted with solar PV panels there was enough sunshine to generate 113% of the electricity required by an average home in the capital and for those homes fitted with solar hot water panels there was enough sunshine in the city to generate an estimated 100% of an average homes hot water demand.

Project staff are currently indentifying suitable sites and buildings for the panels and the successful locations will be announced later this year.

Scotland isn’t exactly renowned for its sunny climate however the figures above show that despite a perceived lack of direct sunlight there is enough to justify a project on a scale such as the one detailed above. Scotland’s relatively long days between the spring and autumn equinoxes, even without the sun shining directly, can produce enough energy to provide its capital’s households with a surplus of electricity from a clean renewable source.

The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative is an excellent example of how a local authority and local community can work together to create a clean and sustainable energy future for all involved. At a time when the cost of energy can be expensive both financially and environmentally projects such as the ECSC go some way to redressing the balance. It may not be the entire solution but it certainly is part of it and it, along with other similar projects should be encouraged. The more councils and communities that adopt similar strategies the more it will benefit us all.

 

 

Renewable Energy and Data Storage

ILI (Renewable Energy) in conjunction with Green Cat Renewables recently submitted a planning application for a six turbine wind farm with a twist at Blair Farm in East Ayrshire. The twist being that submitted jointly with the wind farm application is an application for a data centre proposed to be situated next to wind farm.

Data centres are extremely popular with large technology based companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon as storage facilities for amongst other things your cloud based photos and songs. These centres are extremely energy hungry as they need to prevent the technology from overheating whilst at the same time maintain service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Globally in 2013, data centres consumed approximately 30 gigawatts of energy. This figure is expected to have trebled by 2016.

This has led these environmentally conscious multi-national companies to enter power purchase agreements with renewable energy producers to ensure that the electricity used by their centres comes from renewable sources. However the difference with the proposed Blair Farm development is that it will take its energy supply directly from the wind farm therefore guaranteeing up to 40% the energy it uses will be renewable.

At present Google uses renewable energy to power 35% of its operations through either power purchase agreements or their own projects however they have yet to directly link a renewable energy development to one of their data centres. Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon – whose cloud based web services count amongst others Netflix as a customer – have similar agreements in place to purchase renewable energy from various providers.

We live in a time when the global economy is highly dependent on efficient digital information systems with robust data security. The demand for reliable IT infrastructure around the world has been crucial in the massive expansion of data centre facilities globally.

Scotland has been earmarked for some time as an excellent potential location for data centres however currently only has five in operation. The country has a large highly qualified pool of IT professionals plus it is on average 2 degrees cooler that other major European data centres locations meaning less energy is required to keep conditions stable. Also Scotland is viewed as a low security risk for both terrorist activity and potential environmental crises plus the country is already very renewable friendly with the government target of 100% of electricity supply from renewable sources by 2020 well on track to be achieved. Government support is also available for data centre projects.

The location of the Blair Farm development is close to the existing Whitelees wind farm and is next to the M77 motorway giving it excellent transport links to Glasgow and beyond. When operational it is expected that the data centre will accommodate up to 21 full time staff and more via contractors.

The need for this type of IT infrastructure coupled with its high demand for energy points towards the type of application submitted by ILI (Renewable Energy) as a logical solution. However the application is at present unique. Google cited the reason they don’t build clean energy sources right on their data centres is that “the places with the best renewable power potential are generally not the same places where a data centre can most efficiently and reliably serve its users.”

However with Scotland being a relatively small country it can offer locations with excellent renewable power potential that in turn are close enough to the existing infrastructure to accommodate efficient data centres. In the future the demand for digital services will continue to grow as will the need to supply the sources with vast amounts energy. The clean energy solution presented by ILI Renewable Energy and Green Cat Renewables is one we can all embrace.

 

Renewable Energy Communities

In Scotland, as with many countries, the best sources of renewable energy are found in the more remote places. Open and higher spaces mean more wind, great for the onshore wind industry. Lochs, reservoirs, and rivers provide perfect source materials for hydro schemes and it is the offshore tides which surround our country’s coast that depending on technology may provide us with another source of reliable renewable energy.

While we may have the resources to produce high quantities of electricity via renewable sources, due to the location of the generation source it can be costly and difficult to get it the areas of high consumption, including our cities and towns.

As a result of this we are now seeing more community based renewable energy projects where the electricity produced is consumed within the local area, reducing costs and increasing the wellbeing of the community.

Renewable energy in Scotland started out as local solutions. The early hydro-electric schemes were designed and located in order to provide locally produced electricity to the growing aluminium mining industry which in turn led to the post war Power from the Glens scheme which brought the first electricity to remote communities in the north of Scotland.

In terms of both cost and infrastructure the closer we use the energy we generate to where we produce it the better. Communities throughout the country are therefore producing – or are about to start producing – their own energy from renewable sources using it to power their homes and businesses whilst at the same time help safeguard their environment.

Wind power is the main source of choice for many of the local schemes and more often developers in the onshore wind industry are identifying the advantages of including local communities in the projects.

This type of scheme, known as shared ownership, means that locals can involve themselves financially in the projects and share in the returns along with the developers.

Once of the first of such schemes was in Fintry, Stirlingshire in 2003 when developer Falck Renewables proposed to develop a wind farm five miles outside of the village. A local group negotiated for an additional turbine to be added to the application the income from which would go directly to them. Money was not invested by the local community; instead a loan was taken from the developer for their share of the capital costs which is repaid via some of the income generated by the turbine.

The community is now only a few years away from paying back the loan and is planning to build on the work already done with the revenue brought in so far including improved home and business insulation, household grants, and an energy advisor based in the village.

Other examples include Barra where a local community with a strong desire to have their own turbine were told that their location was just too remote by engineers. Undeterred they carried on and applied for planning permission on the back that a beach landing would be used for the delivery of crucial parts, the first time this had been done for this type of project.

The development in total cost £2.2million and is fully owned by the local population. Consent for the project was achieved when the community demonstrated their support for the project and showed how it could be developed technically. The now completed development has added almost a megawatt of renewable energy capacity to one of the remotest areas of the country.

In South Lanarkshire the Spirit Of Lanarkshire Wind Energy Co-operative raised £2.7million in 2013-14 (the actual figure was over £2.9million but this was oversubscribed and had to be scaled back) to purchased shares in two wind farms being constructed in Sandford near Strathaven and Clydesdale near Coalburn. Investors were able to purchase shares from £250 to a maximum of £20,000 and the initial return payment was made to shareholders in November 2014.

In October 2014 the Sunart Community Renewables Group launched a share offer in order to raise £284,000 to assist in the development of a run-river hydro scheme in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands. Again the offer was over-subscribed, in total over £750,000 was raised but in this case all applicants received their intended share in the project as the Group then had only to top up their development capital with two small social enterprise loans.

These examples show the high levels of interest these types of developments generate locally and the desire from local communities to get involved. With a new draft community energy policy statement by the Scottish Government currently being produced it is expected that this interest will continue to grow.

The nature of renewable energy means that the majority of developments will be in rural areas so it makes sense for local communities to get involved if possible. Whether it be part or full ownership the benefits of investing in such projects are much more than merely financial. It helps bring the community closer together, working to achieve an energy secure future whilst helping maintain a clean, safe environment. Something they can all be proud of.

 

 

The Economic Benefits of Renewable Energy

A report issued at the end of April has confirmed that the onshore wind industry in the UK contributed more than £900m to the country’s economy in 2014 and 27% went directly to the local communities in which the turbines were situated.

The report, compiled by BiGGAR Economics also showed that the industry’s contribution to the economy is increasing having risen by £358m in the two years from 2012. That is a rise of 65%. The report also confirmed that for each megawatt of installed onshore wind capacity more than £2m is contributed to the UK economy.

Also the amount of income going directly to local communities via community benefit schemes is also on the rise with 27% of all generated income from onshore turbines being redeployed into local communities via this method.

The report also confirmed that 48% of the total amount spent to develop and maintain a wind turbine is retained in the area in which it is located rising from 36% during construction to 58% during operation.

Commenting on the report Maria McCaffery chief executive of RenewableUK said “The British onshore wind energy industry is adding over £900 million a year to the national economy, so the benefits to the UK are clear to see.

“This report also shows that £7 of every £10 spent on onshore wind projects is invested here in the UK. Onshore wind powers local economies, bringing £199m of investment into the local communities that host wind farms and creating jobs across the supply chain.”

She added: “Onshore wind is already the lowest cost of all low carbon options and is set to become the least cost form of all electricity within the next five years. Despite these facts, onshore wind projects are under threat from misguided Tory and UKIP policies aimed at stifling their development, blatantly disregarding rational economic evidence and consistently high levels of public support.”

Recently the UK Conservative Party announced as part of its General Election manifesto it would effectively bring an end to the growth of the onshore wind industry by blocking all future projects in planning and ending subsides. The party claimed “lack of public support” as the main reason for their decision.

Also speaking of the report Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said: “Renewable UK have produced a very useful report, for the first time putting hard numbers on the local benefits that wind energy brings. This shows clearly that not only is wind power decentralised in terms of its location and connection to the grid, but its economic benefits are decentralised, too – they are shared in a way that we just don’t see in non-renewable technologies.”

“We won’t see fracking; for example, provide anything like 27% of its economic benefits to local communities. It’s another one of the wonderful things that wind energy brings – couple this with polls consistently showing its popularity among British people, and you have to wonder why on earth the Conservatives are intent on ending it.”

In related news jobs in the UK renewable energy industry are growing at a rate seven times faster than the country’s national average and in total more than 110,000 people are employed in the sector.

The figures, launched last week by the Renewable Energy Association show an increase of 9% in employment across all sectors of the industry in 2014. This compares with a national average of 1.2% over the same period.

Scotland, London, the East Midlands and the North West saw particularly high increases whilst the highest performing sector within the industry was biomass which saw employment rise by 17%.

Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association Dr. Nina Skorupska commenting on the figures said: “We are delighted to see such significant jobs growth across all technologies and industries in the renewable energy sector. This reflects greater confidence not only in the renewables market, but also the wider economy as a whole.

“Our industry offers a wealth of unique and exciting career opportunities and plays an essential part in ensuing that the UK meets its renewable energy targets.”

With the UK General Election taking place this week both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have pledged to continue to grow green jobs should either party win.

Dr Skorupska added: “It is of the upmost importance that renewable energy remains a priority for the incoming government.

“We look forward to working with the next government to ensure that even more is done to support our industry to ensure we can continue to create more skilled jobs and maintain the important growth seen over the last couple of years.”

At its current rate of growth UK onshore wind will soon be a £1billion industry, helping the economy grow as well as creating and sustaining jobs throughout the entire country. The technology is proven, getting cheaper, and as mentioned above will soon be the least expensive method of electricity generation in the UK.

Whoever emerges victorious at the General Election, whether it is with a majority or as part of a coalition, must take this into account when planning their environmental policies for the upcoming term. Anything less would be neglecting the needs and wants of the nation whilst wilfully making it more difficult to achieve our carbon reduction targets.