Our Energy Future

Last week the Scottish Green Party stated that Scotland should move away from an “over-reliance on fossil fuels” and fully commit to develop and future energy plan based on renewables.

Debating at Holyrood as global oil prices continue to fall, Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, the party’s two MSPs believe that a “managed decline” in North Sea Oil and Gas production could be taken as opportunity to create jobs in other areas of the energy industry.

The Scottish Government has already committed on record support to move to a low carbon economy however a number of MSPs are continuing to support the oil and gas industry with energy minister Fergus Ewing stating the government would do everything possible to support jobs.

Mr. Harvie has been accused of trivialising job losses in the industry but has claimed they are “absurd misquotes.”

“Even those of us who have long argued that we are over-reliant on the fossil fuel industries would never argue that the impact of job losses on this scale is something trivial” he said

Researched commissioned by the Scottish Greens concluded that a move from fossil fuels to renewables and other cleaner alternatives could create 200,000 new jobs in Scotland.

Speaking at the Holyrood debate Mr. Harvie said “Even those of us who have long argued that we are over-reliant on the fossil fuel industries would never argue that the impact of job losses on this scale is something trivial.”

North East MSP Lewis MacDonald urged the Scottish government to undertake an “urgent and detailed” review of the impact of the current low oil price on the strength and stability of the economy stating “whatever the future prospects for North Sea oil, it is not a bonus and it is not an optional extra. It is of critical importance to us all and today it is under threat.”

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the Greens had put forward a “remarkably downbeat and depressing view of a sector that is still important”, to which Mr Harvie replied that “burning all the oil and gas is not compatible with our survival”.

Energy minister Fergus Ewing said companies would go into administration if “the Green recipe is adopted”, arguing that there were many fields where “oil and gas and renewables go hand in hand”.

He said: “Without all of us supporting the work that companies in Scotland do right now, for 2016 and for the foreseeable future, then we won’t see companies go into transition, we’ll see companies go into administration.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said renewable sources supplied about half of Scotland’s total electricity needs stating “We have a clear policy for a balanced energy mix to provide energy security for the future that balances fossil fuels alongside the growing importance of renewables.”

A new report commissioned by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) ‘Engineering the UK Electricity Gap’ has claimed that the UK could be set for an energy crisis if the government continues with plans to close all remaining coal plant by 2025.

According to the reports closing the plants, as promised by UK energy secretary Amber Rudd, along with the shuttering of retired nuclear generators will create an energy shortfall of 55% by 2025.

However rather than postponing the coal plant closures the IME report suggest that shortfall could be resolved by incentivising demand reduction and invest in renewables and storage.

The report also stated that the UK would require thirty new gas turbine plans if it was to go down that route to make up the shortfall however the report’s lead author Jennifer Baxter said, the UK has “neither the time, resources nor enough people with the right skills” to achieve.

Another alternative would be to import energy via one of the country’s interconnectors with mainland Europe would leave the UK “at the mercy of the markets, weather and politics of other countries”, Baxter has urged the government to create a “clear pathway” for companies to invest in energy infrastructure and put forward renewables as a solution for the shortfall.

“We need to ensure we have the right skills and knowledge in place to enable this key infrastructure to be built. The UK Infrastructure Commission must also take urgent action to prioritise greater energy efficiency by industry and clarify financial incentives for research and development of renewables, energy storage and combined heat and power,” she added.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Simon Bullock agreed with the report’s findings, stating that the government must protect the country’s energy security with a low-carbon electricity system stating “the quickest and safest way to deal with any concerns about power capacity is to prioritise investment in energy efficiency and storage, as the report says, and develop the UK’s massive wind and solar potential.”

Coinciding with the IME report new research from University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School into the estimated future costs of solar PV technologies has shown potential reductions of 10% per year for the next decade. Professors Doyne Farmer and Francois Lafond used historical data and applied Moore’s Law to develop a forecasting model which estimates the unit cost over time of any given technology.

Researchers have therefore suggested that using these projections energy from solar PV could supply 20% of the world’s energy demands by 2027.

Professor Farmer added “Sceptics have claimed that solar PV cannot be ramped up quickly enough to play a significant role in combating global warming. In a context where limited resources for technology investment constrain policy makers to focus on a few technologies that have a real chance to eventually achieve and even exceed grid parity, the ability to have improved forecasts and know how accurate they are should prove particularly useful.”

At ILI Energy we have always promoted a varied energy mix, not only to preserve our energy security but also with the greater economic picture in mind. That said there are some technologies that are so outdated and the energy they produce just not clean enough that they are rightly being phased out.

Replacing these however will not be easy, as shown in the IME’s report. We have continually stressed that continued use of renewable energy technologies will bring their cost down and now the evidence is there to confirm this.

A strong commitment from the government regarding renewable technologies would help to make up the energy shortfall whilst also promoting jobs and as the cost of the technologies reduce the Government support mechanisms could do likewise.

Diversity in Renewables

Scottish Renewables have launched a new manifesto for 2016 which it is hoping will be adopted by political parties ahead of this year’s Holyrood election.

Policies within the manifesto Scottish Renewables wish the next Scottish Government to adopt include aiding in the expansion of community owned renewable energy projects, increasing provision for low carbon vehicles, and ensuring good practice in the public sector.

However the main point is that they are looking for a commitment to produce 50% of all Scotland’s energy requirements by 2030 including electricity, heat, and transport from renewable sources.

Scotland is expected to reach its target of 100% of electricity demand generated from renewable sources by 2020 but adding heat and transport energy use to this is a big jump. Currently the target stands at 15% however Scottish renewables have claimed that a new target of 50% would be achievable.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “Scotland’s ambitious climate change and 2020 renewable energy targets have signalled a clear intent for the country to lead the way in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Together, renewables now produce the equivalent of 15% of Scotland’s energy use across electricity, heat and transport.

“But with only four years to go, it is now time to look beyond 2020 and for Scotland to set a stretching target for renewables to produce the equivalent of at least 50% of all energy use across electricity, heat and transport by 2030.

“That may seem ambitious but we will be more than half way there by the end of this decade and Sweden – the European leader – already sources half of all energy from renewables today.”

He added: “Achieving this new target will require strategic leadership from the next Scottish government.

“The development of a comprehensive and joined-up energy strategy will allow the sector to maintain its competitiveness as well as spearheading the development and deployment of new technologies.”

Scottish Greens co-convenor Patrick Harvie welcomed the call for more ambitious targets and hoped it would start a transition period in Scotland’s energy production stating “Scottish Greens have long advocated a managed transition away from oil and gas so we seize the opportunity of our renewables and energy efficiency potential, and refocus skills and investment towards these sectors to sustain our economy.

“Our research has already shown how Scotland can employ thousands more people by investing in renewables and oil and gas decommissioning, rather than propping up an industry whose unburnable assets pose a huge economic risk.”

Also speaking at the launch of the manifesto Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said “The rapid progress Scotland has made on renewable electricity has mainly been down to a strong target, industry support, and strong leadership across successive Scottish governments.”

In other Scottish renewable news approximately £13million per year is being raised for the public purse by leasing out Forestry Commission land for renewable energy instillations. Those currently on land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland produce 900MW of electricity and with a further fifty new developments in the pipeline it is expected to reach 1.2 GW by 2020.

In addition those currently operational contribute over £3million in community benefits per year with this figure expected to top £5million.

Michael Ansell, Head of Estates Development at Forest Enterprise Scotland said: “Through the development of renewable energy on the National Forest Estate, Forest Enterprise Scotland is assisting the Scottish Government with its climate change and renewable electricity targets whilst providing significant income and investment opportunities to communities.”

The most recent figures show a total of 917.4MW of wind power generation capacity and 19.7M of hydro-power capacity generated on Forestry Commission land with two major wind farm developments currently under construction at A’Chruach in Argyll and Bute and Kilgallioch in South Ayrshire adding twenty one and ninety six new turbines respectively.

Six further new wind farms have been approved by planners in the Highlands, Moray, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute and West Lothian and an additional eight are currently working their way through the planning process.

Despite the cuts in renewable subsides the Forestry Commission have confirmed that significant development activity is still going on in respect of potential future sites.

Since 2007, 1,292 hectares of forest have been felled to make way for wind turbine developments with 1250 hectares replanted. All leases entered into by renewable energy developments include a reference to the Scottish Government’s woodland removal policy which includes the need for compensatory planting where appropriate.

Dr Richard Dixon Friends of the Earth Director commented: “It is really encouraging to see a Government body making real progress in meeting their renewable energy targets.

“The Forestry Commission appears to be striking a good balance between making space for renewables and replacing any tree cover lost. We know that increasing forested land is crucial to drawing down carbon from the atmosphere.”

By increasing the public purse and generating clean renewable energy whilst maintaining the nation’s tree count there are multiple benefits to the leasing of Forestry Commission land to renewable energy developers.

In addition  due to the nature of the work carried out at these sites, the infrastructure to support heavy good vehicles is already in place, something developers used to the issues regarding accessing 50m plus turbines into remote sites will find very favourable.

Of course not everything is a given, planning has to achieved and all conditions adhered to plus the development must be able to connect to the grid, something which is becoming more difficult as the amount of instillations accessing it rises. However if everything can be put in place the use of Forestry Commission land for renewable projects is something which benefits us all and will go a long way in helping us achieve 50% of all our energy needs from renewable sources.

 

Scotland’s Renewable Winter

Renewable Energy in Scotland has so far experienced a positive winter in Scotland. This week WWF Scotland released new figures stating the 2015 was a great year for renewable energy in the country.

This was due to renewable energy proving 97% of Scotland’s residential electricity demand through the entire year with wind power alone increasing its contribution by 16% compared to 2014. In December alone electricity generated from wind power exceeded the country’s residential demand by 48%.

This increase in renewable energy use in turn prevented millions of tonnes of carbon emissions being ejected into the atmosphere helping to produce a cleaner environment and WWF has subsequently called on all political parties to implement policies ensuring Scotland is the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.

WWF director Lang Banks said “On average, across 2015, wind power generated enough to supply the electrical needs of 97% 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, half or more of their electricity or hot water needs were met from the sun for the most of the year, helping those homes to reduce their reliance on coal, gas, or oil.”

With 2016 being a critical year politically, we’d like to see each of the political parties back policies that would enable Scotland become the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.”

In other new figures released by WWF Scotland along with the Solar Trade Association the Scottish Borders was shown to be the region with the third highest number of solar instillations in the country.

This was due to a 41% increase in solar arrays in the Borders region from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015 to 2,595 in total. Aberdeen and Fife remain in first and second place as across the country the total capacity of solar photo-voltaic systems attained 179MW, an increase of 28% from the previous year.

WWF and the Solar Trade Association has asked the Scottish Government to encourage further development of solar power stating that further increases will prevent thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Welcoming the data Lang Banks said: “Despite the challenges facing the industry, it’s fantastic to see so many homes and businesses embracing solar power.

“Although the total installed solar capacity is small when compared to wind energy, we should remember that collectively these solar panels are helping to prevent thousands of tonnes of climate-damaging emissions being emitted every year.

“Following the recent conclusion UN climate talks in Paris, alongside energy saving measures, we’re going to have to see an even greater uptake of solar and other renewable technologies here and globally.

“We therefore call upon the Scottish Government to do all that it can to help ensure Scotland switches on to the full potential of solar power.”

Also in the good news bracket for renewable energy in Scotland is that over seven hundred homes in the Broomhill area of Glasgow will benefit from a new £10million project designed to provide renewable heat and cut energy bills.

The Cube Housing Association district heating project will be a low carbon energy centre providing heat and hot water to the homes via three 500KW wood pellet boilers with thermal heat stores and a 1.5MW condensing gas boiler.

The project which is expected to same 2000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year has been funded by British Gas and a loan from the Scottish Partnership for Regeneration in Urban Centres (Spruce) fund, a joint Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund regeneration initiative.

Alex Neil Social Justice Secretary said: “This £10.6 million project will make a massive difference to the lives of hundreds of households in Glasgow, supplying heat more efficiently and saving people money on their bills.

“The district heating scheme will help tackle fuel poverty, be better for the planet and make homes in the Broomhill area warmer and cheaper to heat.

“From energy centres to business parks the Spruce fund is helping to regenerate areas by providing crucial investment that is supporting the economy and jobs and transforming our communities for the better.”

Despite dwindling subsidies and little government support renewable energy can still have a positive impact. Our environment is cleaner because of our continued wind power generation, our commitment to solar arrays, and our establishment of newer technologies such as district heat projects. Consumer’s bills are being reduced due to renewable energy projects and the technology is costing less.

With proper commitment we can continue this trend which will lead to clean, safe, and inexpensive secure energy future. All involved have to pull together with a clear direction but it is achievable. What we have accomplished already is in a short space of time is proof of that.