Onshore wind benefitting Scotland’s communities

As the fate of onshore wind in the UK made its way into the national news last week another piece of related news didn’t make quite the splash as the government’s abolition of the onshore wind subsidies. However this news nugget perhaps deserved as much coverage as it confirmed the important contribution that onshore wind is making to hundreds of communities throughout the country.

Research by Local Energy Scotland showed that in 2014 Scotland’s onshore wind industry contributed £8.8million to community projects, the highest ever amount and that the contributions offered to local communities by companies operating onshore turbines in their area are being spent in “a huge number of remarkably diverse ways.”

Some of the various causes the contributions were spent on in 2014 included a new community hall in Daviot, Aberdeenshire, sending a dance school from West Lothian to the European Street Dance Championships in Germany and buying a thermal imaging camera so residents in Sutherland can see if and where their homes need extra insulation.

The details come from Local Energy Scotland Community Renewables Register which is updated on a regular basis in order to accurately calculate the current total raised and available. Chris Morris of Local Energy Scotland said: “The Register shows not just the financial value of Community Benefit funds, providing sustainable income to Scottish communities every year, but also shows what can be achieved with the revenue.

“We strongly encourage developers and communities alike to visit the Register and browse the information available, and of course upload information of any schemes in which they are involved.”

As community contributions tend to made on an annual basis the register shows that at least £8.8million will be donated in community contributions every 12 months for the next ten years at least, and despite the retraction of subsides this is still expected to grow for another two years as projects of all scales from 225kW single turbine instillations to Scotland’s largest wind farm at Whitlee contribute towards their local communities.

Scottish Renewables Senior Policy Manager Joss Blamire welcomed the news stating “This new figure shows quite clearly the huge contribution green energy projects are making to communities across Scotland. Without onshore wind, many of the worthy projects which have been supported so far simply could not have gone ahead.

“Community Benefit payments are just a part of the overall picture here: onshore wind in Scotland is delivering clean energy and jobs and investment, as well as helping meet our 2020 climate change targets.

“Onshore wind employs almost 3,400 people in Scotland, and latest figures show that the sector invested more than £700 million in the country in the year to September 2014. Community Benefit payments, which can last for up to 20 years, are just part of that picture – but they’re a part which is increasingly important to some of Scotland’s most remote areas.”

Fergus Ewing Scotland’s Energy Minister explained that Community Benefit can improve lives, “These figures demonstrate how community benefits from renewables offer an unprecedented opportunity to improve people’s lives.

“Over £8.5 million invested in such diverse projects in the last year demonstrates a great level of commitment from developers, large and small, to ensuring that green energy developments harness not only the wind, but the goodwill of local communities.”

Dr Richard Dixon a Director at Friends of the Earth Scotland speaking of the announcement said, “Communities across Scotland are benefiting from renewable energy schemes in their area. Communities should be encouraged to take ownership of these projects so that they further benefit from the transition away from dirty energy. Community ownership allows people to have control over their energy future and builds broader support for renewables.

“Community power is a big success story in Scotland but we can do so much more. We are urging the Scottish Government to increase their current target for community and locally owned energy for 2020 and to set an even more ambitious target for 2030.

“People across Scotland are already implementing real, proven solutions to climate change. The energy revolution has begun, and leaders must support it and commit to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

The impact that these contributions can have upon the local communities should not be underestimated. There is no obligation for developers and operators to make any contribution but most understand the importance of giving back to community that they operate within.

In most cases anyone, whether it be an individual or a group, can apply to become a beneficiary either as a one off or as an ongoing recipient. Causes have to be both local and worthwhile and as long as these two factors can be demonstrated then some amount of contribution may be forthcoming. Even if the fund is oversubscribed normally the potential recipient can reapply the following year.

As mentioned above the beneficiaries are varied but most importantly it is open to everyone in the community. Projects like this can help build better relationships between the developer operator and the community as they all focus on a common goal.

As the lifespan for most turbines is 20 years and a large number of these in Scotland have yet to reach half of that the overall contribution fund is expected to be at least maintained for the next 10 years. Beyond it will depend on new instillations contributing to their local communities however with the retraction of the subsidies for onshore wind making it unlikely that many more new projects will now go ahead the overall amount contributed is likely to level off soon and then start the reduce.

When you see and hear the stories of the beneficiaries you understand why this is an unfortunate side effect of the UK government’s change in policy.

The Local Energy Scotland Community Renewables Register can be accessed here http://www.localenergyscotland.org/view-the-register/

 

Global rise in clean energy investment

Global investment in clean energy rose to near its 2011 peak last year to $310bn (£200bn). The significance of this being that there had been signs within the investor community the clean energy and in particular clean technology had run its course and that investment would continue to fall, as it had from 2011 to 2013.

Initially investors had invested heavily into different clean technologies (cleantech) such as electric cars, solar panels, and storage solutions over the last ten years looking for high returns as we slowly gave up our reliance on fossil fuels. However the market was oversaturated and as a result share prices fell and investment levels decreased.

The new figures however have given the industry a welcome boost at a time when the cost of cleantech has tumbled and as a result more renewable energy was generated than ever before.

Also, renewable energy generation and subsequently cleantech is spreading rapidly into developing countries. China invested $89.5bn in the sector last year (up 32%), Brazil $7.9bn (up 88%) and India $7.9bn (up 14%).

Angus McCrone, chief editor at Bloomberg New Energy Finance said “We’ve got to the point where in 2014, developing countries almost caught up with developed countries in terms of overall dollar investment. In some places it’s happening without any subsidy support too.”

However the private and public sectors have also increased their support for cleantech via start-up investment and subsidies including tax breaks with Frans Nauta, director at Climate-KIC an EU funded programme that supports cleantech start-ups admitting that “without them the industry would be in a much tougher position.”

Still missing from the mix however is venture capital (VC) investment which remains considerably down from its peak level.

Over the last ten years Silicon Valley Venture VCs invested heavily in cleantech with only modest knowledge of the sector hoping for fast sizable returns. However they found the market slow moving and highly competitive leaving few surprised when billion dollar companies such as Kior, a producer of biofuel and solar company Solyndra went bust.

“In a way it got overhyped and perhaps too many ideas got funded,” says Richard Youngman, managing director, Europe & Asia at the Cleantech Group, “in a world where hype can be a bad thing, a more sober existence was needed.”

Frans Nauta however believes that the lack of VCs is a substantial issue for cleantech investment as they are more likely to invest in higher risk, early stage companies that significantly boosts innovation.

“Take solar, I still see incredible opportunities for disruption, whether it’s improving the efficiency of the panels, their production, their installation or in terms of financing, but while I know many companies making strides in this area, they don’t have enough access to funding,” he said.

James McNaughton, chief executive of Isentropic, a UK based start-up that claims to be developing one of the lowest cost methods of grid scale electricity storage agrees that the lack of VCs is a concern.

“Government funding is very welcome, but it often has strings attached… and the involvement of a corporate investor can reduce the value of the company in the long run as they may want preferential rights. By contrast, financial VCs invest in a wider range of companies and their interests are better aligned with shareholders.”

There are alternatives though, Pavegen, a company which manufacture floor tiles that convert the kinetic energy in footsteps into electricity struggled to attain funding in the past so is now raising cash via a crowdfunding programme. Also CorPower Ocean, a Swedish company whose wave power cleantech generates up to five times more energy than alternative technologies has secured funding from the EU, the Swedish Energy Agency, and from within the industry.

However while the overall global picture is positive with countries such as China making huge commitments, there remains uncertainties at an individual country level due to potentially negative policy reform. Something which concerns Angus McCrone

“In the UK the new government is not really friendly to onshore wind, so we could well see investment hit quite hard in the next few years and in the US there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen to the tax credits for companies incentivising wind and solar.”

CorPower chief executive Patrik Möller believes that the biggest barrier of all is the continued subsidisation of fossil fuels and that until carbon dioxide is priced at a point comparable to the damage it causes, a wholesale shift towards clean technologies is unlikely.

Frans Nauta however remains positive as he believes that the decreasing cost of renewable energy will make it the preferable option for consumers, irrespective of their attitude towards the environment.

“It is not a matter of if these technologies will rule but when: the questions are how fast we’ll get there and who is going to benefit from this new economy. If you’re conservative and you let the lobbyists of the fossil fuel industry dictate your policies, you are going to miss out.”

The ascension of renewable energy over the past 15 years as the fastest growing source of electricity has shown that with the correct mix of private and public funding it is the most viable option for securing our energy future. The increase in levels of investment is encouraging but as an industry we must do more to entice VC investment. The combination of these funds along with the technology and ideas we already have can create a domino effect which will push the boundaries of renewable energy generation, ultimately leading to clean and inexpensive energy for all.

 

 

 

The Future for Wind Power

Scotland’s wind farms set a new record last month as output soared to its highest level ever and overall generation increased by 83% compared May 2014.

Analysis by WWF Scotland of the country’s wind and solar data for the month of May provided by WeatherEnergy found that Scotland’s wind turbines produced 924,405MWh of electricity which was exported to the grid. On average this is enough to supply 101% of Scotland’s 2.4million household’s electricity demand. This is an increase of 83% on the 504.820MWh produced in May 2014.

The analysis also revealed that wind turbines generated enough energy to supply 100% of more of Scotland’s households on 14 of the 31 days in the month. In addition, 47% of Scotland’s total electricity consumption (residential and business) came from wind turbines.

WWF also looked at the solar figures and confirmed that there was enough sunshine in May to generate approximately 110% of the average household electricity consumption in Edinburgh, 108% in Aberdeen, 102% in Inverness, and 96% in Glasgow. Also for those homes with solar hot water panels there was enough sunshine throughout May in all four cities to generate 100% of the average household hot water requirements.

The news of this new wind generation record comes at a time when the UK government is planning to meet its manifesto pledge to halt new subsidies for all onshore wind turbines and the Scottish government and environmental groups are attempting to dissuade them from doing so in particular in Scotland.

Recently Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing wrote to the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd to advise caution regarding the halting of the onshore wind subsidies, as this would have a major negative impact on the industry, as well as seeking confirmation that the Scottish Government will be consulted on this policy reform as previously promised by the Prime Minister.

The announcement from the UK Government is expected shortly however industry experts have already advised that the controversial policy may start a wave of legal action if the government’s attempts to alter the subsidy and its rules retroactively or if it attempts to exclude onshore wind instillations from support contracts approved and awarded under EU State Aid rules.

Speaking of the analysis and the governments impending policy change Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said “Strong winds throughout the month helped to make it a record-breaking May for wind power output, with enough clean energy generated to supply the needs of 101% of Scottish households equivalent to 47% of Scotland’s entire electricity demand from homes, businesses and industry for the month.

“Even better, output was up a staggering 83% compared to the same period last year, keeping us on track to have another record-breaking year for wind power.

“However, despite the fact that onshore wind power is clearly working, the continued development of this clean energy technology in Scotland is at risk as a result of UK plans to end support for the industry earlier than planned. Cutting support now for the lowest cost renewable technology would be a backwards step that will either see consumer bills rise or our climate targets missed.

“Opinion polls consistently show onshore wind to be one of the most popular forms of electricity, which helps sustain thousands of jobs while helping to cut carbon emissions. We encourage the Scottish Government to continue to support the development of onshore wind in Scotland and press UK Ministers to think again on its plans to cut support.”

On solar power, Banks added: “When wind output is high it usually means solar output can be expected to be lower. However, during May, for tens of thousands of homes that have installed solar panels to generate electricity or heat water, almost all of their electricity or hot water needs could have been met by the sun, helping to reduce reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

“Last month might not have been the sunniest, but the data confirms that at this time of year days of endless sunshine are not needed for good solar generation, as increased daylight hours helped to compensate.”

ILI Renewable Energy (ILI) also backed the Scottish government’s call for consultation prior to the announcement of any decision on wind energy subsidies that will have a negative impact on Scotland.

Mark Wilson from ILI said “The UK Government’s proposal is environmental madness. Many projects still rely on this subsidy for their economic viability and confidence in the future of the subsidy is required to attract inward investment.

“Removing these subsidies now will have a devastating effect on Scotland’s ability to achieve its goal of 100% renewal energy by 2020, as well as UK wide targets that rely on the contribution that Scotland can make. As far as I can see the only objection the UK Government has is purely aesthetic.

“A vocal minority simply don’t like the look of wind turbines but everything about onshore wind makes sense – it’s clean, flexible, environmentally-friendly. The subsidy works. As the environmental charity WWF Scotland has said removing the subsidy could risk undermining the development of the cheapest form of renewable energy.”

Mark added “Everyone knows that investment requires a level of certainty. I hope UK Government does not renege on their commitment to consult with Scotland’s renewable energy industry on this important ecological and economic issue.”

The UK in general and Scotland in particular has built up a strong and robust wind energy sector providing cleanly generated electricity to many millions of households and business throughout the country. It provides numerous types of jobs to over 100,000 people and is the main source for reducing our carbon emissions, something we are legally obliged to do. Also, it has been previously demonstrated that wind energy has the support of the British people.

When asked why they pledged to end the subsidies the government cited negative public opinion for wind turbines however as shown above this has since been debunked. With the positives detailed above it would be illogical to set back a growing industry which provides jobs, tax income, and clean energy to the nation. It is our hope that the government change tact and come to agree with us.

Information and quotes sourced at http://www.clickgreen.org.uk/news/national-news/126122-scotland%5Cs-wind-energy-increases-83-to-power-25-million-homes.html