Scotland’s potential for energy storage

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce have announced that due to excess electricity production from wind farms, Scotland could become a world leader in developing new energy storage technologies which in turn will create more than 5,000 jobs throughout the country.

The Chambers of Commerce predict that up to 30 locations could benefit from this new industry, some of which would be rural, with potential investment totalling £1.5 billion if the opportunity was fully realised. It did however recognise that areas such as California offer strong competition due to excess electricity generation from solar power.

Garry Clark, head of Scottish Chambers’ economic development intelligence unit, said: “It is an area that other countries are looking at very strongly. We have got all this renewable energy capacity in there. It is often not producing energy at the right time. California has the same problem with solar.

“It is an area where we have the potential not to get left behind, so let’s seize it with both hands. It could be something that is capable of generating multiple investments around the country, particularly in rural areas as well. To us, it seems something well worth exploring.”

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said “Scotland already has a significant installed capacity of wind energy infrastructure, but the future of this industry will be dictated by the development of new technologies to store excess electricity production for use at times of peak demand.

“Scotland has the potential to become a world leader in this area, with the right investment, helping to increase the efficiency and lower the costs of renewable energy as well as rooting skills and talent in Scotland.

“That level of forward planning is essential if businesses are to have the confidence to make investment decisions, and would put an end to recent uncertainty in the sector due to fundamental changes in policy such as the UK Government’s decision to shift the goalposts on renewable energy policy following the 2015 General Election.

“Energy is what enables every part of our economy to flourish and the various components of the sector are huge economic contributors in their own right. From a strategic point of view, it is vital that Scotland, and indeed the United Kingdom, develops a coherent energy plan for the future over a 50-year period.”

One Scottish company, East Lothian based Sunamp, already making inroads in the area of storage technologies recently, announced multi-million pound fundraising. Sunamp, which has developed batteries that store renewable energy as heat for future use and can deliver heat and hot water on demand, revealed yesterday that it had raised a further £3.2 million development funding from investors as it eyes growth in international markets.

“The global thermal energy storage market is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2020 and we are excited about the potential of our product to solve a worldwide problem,” said chief executive Andrew Bissell. “We are now ready for the next phase of expansion, and have our sights set on the North American markets, Europe and Asia-Pacific.”

Those that view renewable energy production negatively have long used the intermittent nature of generation aside low storage capabilities as a stick to beat it with. So far the grid has coped admirably with the renewable energy generation levels however with further increases in capacity due this year, a capable storage solution would go a long way in supporting the generation targets set by the government.

It is something that ILI Energy is researching presently and we welcome the Scottish Chambers of Commerce announcement.

While the race to attain cost effective energy storage intensifies the wind industry in Scotland received a boost when it was revealed that the presence of wind farms does not affect the ability of peat land to capture carbon.

As peat land provides an excellent location for wind turbine installations and previous studies established that clusters of turbines create localised microclimates there was a concern that a multiple turbine installation could affect the carbon capture ability of such areas.

However a new study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal and carried out by researchers from University of Glasgow, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Lancaster University and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology placed a grid of one hundred temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbines at Scottish Power Renewables’ Black Law wind farm in North Lanarkshire.

The results were that when the turbines were operational at night the air temperature increased by 0.2°C and marginally increased the absolute humidity. When the turbines were not operational there was no effect to the localised climate.

Susan Waldron, Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said: “It’s important to understand the effects of wind farms as they are projected to output seven percent of global energy production by 2035, with more than three-quarters of wind farm coverage on land. These effects are likely to be very small compared to the much larger effect that the changing of the seasons have on the temperature of peat lands.”

With the majority of Scotland’s wind farms located on peat land it is reassuring to know that the environmental benefit they bring is not being out-weighed by a negative effect upon the land they are located.

 

Coal’s demise is Renewables’ gain

For the first time in the UK, on Saturday the 9th of April 2016 solar panels generated more electricity than coal. Analysis from Carbon Brief confirmed that on that day solar generated 29 GWh of electricity – 4% of the total used and 8 GWh more than coal who’s 21 GWh attributed 3% of the country’s usage. This was repeated the following day with solar increasing its share to 6% whilst coal remained at 3%.

Although solar has yet to produce more electricity than coal over a week or more this milestone does represent a major shift in UK energy production. Coal is being used less and less in the UK electricity production since 2012. In 2015 it fell to its lowest level since the 1950s, although until recently had still accounted for 10% or more of the overall electricity produced daily.

In 2016 coal has supplied less than 10% on 18 of 102 days including every day in April so far.

Even during the miner’s strike in the early 1980s coal was still the largest provider of UK electricity. As coal generation continues to fall other sources will overtake it on a regular basis.

Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jeffries speaking to The Guardian about this said “The economics of coal have deteriorated dramatically over the last 18 months. Coal-power plants are now heavily loss-making, and the reason is low wholesale prices… [and] what’s really hit coal is the increase in the carbon tax, the move from £8 to £18 under the carbon floor price floor last year, which really hurt them and flipped the economics over from barely profitable to loss-making.

More recently, coal has also lost out to seasonal reductions in demand as warmer temperatures set in, and a series of large coal plants have shut down. The UK has pledged to phase out unabated coal generation by 2025.

Coal generation over the past fortnight was half that in the previous two-week period. Reduced demand along with increases in nuclear, solar and gas-fired generation have picked up the slack.”

Solar generation has risen significantly this decade. In 2015 approximately 4GW of additional capacity was developed bringing the total capacity up to 10GW. Last year it generated 2.2% of all electricity in the UK, in 2011 it was almost zero.

Although we at ILI Energy promote a diverse mix of energy generation the reduction in coal produced electricity is to the benefit of the entire country. As well as aiding significantly towards our carbon reduction targets it leads to cleaner air and a better environment. The rise of solar in its place is also agreeable as it means that one carbon heavy industry is not replaced by another.

In other news it was announced last week that the East Renfrewshire Renewable Energy Fund will replace the existing Whitelee Wind Farm Fund which was set up in 2007 to allocate an annual sum of money to community charitable, educational or environmental projects.

Andy Cahill, East Renfrewshire environmental Director made the announcement “The new East Renfrewshire Renewable Energy Fund will combine the income from Scottish Power Renewables from the existing Whitelee Fund and a new funding stream from the Middleton Windfarm to create a single bigger fund available to a greater number of projects across the whole of East Renfrewshire.

“The existing Whitelee fund – managed by ERC on behalf of Scottish Power Renewables – has already invested more than £1.5m in community projects and has prioritised investment in projects within five km of the windfarm – namely Eaglesham and Waterfoot. However a new windfarm in Middleton is already operational and a similar community benefit arrangement is in place.

“It was agreed that combining the two funds with a new single set of criteria would be of benefit to the entire community”

It is estimated that the fund will receive approximately £165,000 per year and will be managed by a new panel. Prior to the first meeting the council will meet with members of the community to discuss the proposed priorities of the new fund plus a further engagement process will be launched in the coming weeks.

Over the past nine years many worthy causes have benefitted from the fund generated by the Whitelee Wind Farm and it isn’t an isolated case. The majority of renewable energy developments in the country have a community benefit fund attached to them. In some cases the fund contributes directly to the local authority who in turn allocate it to qualifying projects. In others, agreements are set up between the operator and local charities, causes, projects etc.

In many cases they are voluntary however the developer rightly understands that it is important to give back to the community that they are operating in.

Achieving 50% renewable generation

Statistics published last week by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change show that 57.7% of electricity consumed in Scotland in 2015 was generated by renewable sources, 7.7% above the government set 50% target.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister welcomed the figures and promised his party would go further if re-elected in May. “The SNP have long championed green energy and these new figures show the huge progress we have made – but we are determined to go even further,” he said.

“As we set out in Parliament earlier this month, the SNP is developing an ambitious and long-term Scottish energy strategy which, if re-elected, we will implement over the next parliament and beyond. The strategy will aim to make electricity cleaner, affordable and more secure for all consumers.”

Mr. Swinney also pointed out that the SNP’s commitment to renewable energy generation was in direct contrast to that of the UK government citing their decision to end subsidies for onshore wind and solar installations early.

“Growth in renewable energy is one of the reasons Scotland is seen as an international leader in taking action to tackle climate change – alongside our world leading targets to reduce our carbon emissions,” he added.

“Scotland has continually led on climate change – setting a good international example as well as taking significant action at home, as today’s renewable energy statistics show.”

Speaking of the record breaking year Lang Banks director of WWF Scotland said “It’s fantastic news to learn that Scotland has continued to grow its use of renewables and now generates well over half of its annual electricity needs from clean energy sources.

“Ahead of May’s elections we need all political parties to continue to prioritise renewables and commit to ensuring Scotland secures the benefits of becoming the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.

“Independent research has shown that it is possible for Scotland to have a secure, efficient electricity system, based on almost entirely renewable electricity generation, by 2030. Embracing that vision would maximise the opportunities to create new jobs, empower communities and support local economic renewal throughout the country.”

Friends of the Earth director Dr. Richard Dixon said “This is great news and an important step in creating a fossil-free Scotland.

“Despite the UK Government’s ideological assault on renewable energy, Scotland is storming ahead, smashing through our 50% target for 2015. Well done to all those in this vital industry who have helped produce a big increase from the 2014 figures.”

Scottish Renewables Director of Policy said “This is another important milestone for our industry and shows renewables are now a mainstream part of our power sector.

“There is still a huge amount of potential for future growth, if the industry is given the right backing by government.”

“Despite having enough projects in the pipeline, recent changes to government support, and hold ups in the consenting process for offshore wind farms, have set us on a path to fall short of the 2020 target.”

For the UK on a whole, renewable generation increased by 29% to a record 83.3TWh in 2015. Onshore wind generation was up 24% from the previous year, offshore wind 30%, solar – a remarkable 86%, and bio-energy 28%. Increases have been attributed to higher wind speeds and increased capacity. The UK added 1.008GW of new capacity in 2015, approximately 50% down on 2014.

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive at RenewableUK said “Putting the consumer first means putting renewables first. As old coal turns off, renewables is quietly taking its place, delivering energy security and value for money. It makes more sense than ever to fully support and take advantage of our natural resources.”

A beneficial effect of the increase of renewable energy generation is that the UK’s annual carbon emissions fell by 4% in 2015. Coal fired power stations are now burning at their lowest levels in 150 years.

Coal consumption fell by 22% in 2015 compared to 2015 as a number of coal power stations were closed and decommissioned in 2015, a trend which has continued in 2016 with four more stations closing in March. In some quarters this has led to concerns about our long term energy security and potential black-outs. However a number of experts have rubbished such claims as long as we produce a clear energy policy.

“We have seen at least five years of “lights out” headlines, so far without so much as a flicker caused by insufficient capacity,” said Prof Michael Grubb, at University College London. “Despite tight margins, extreme weather is far more likely to cause any household disconnections than insufficient generating capacity.”

“Closure of these coal plants is both expected and necessary,” said Jonathan Gaventa, director of thinktank E3G. “The UK has plenty of options to cover the loss of coal-fired power through energy efficiency, renewables, interconnection with other countries and smart demand. This combination can deliver low-cost electricity reliably and quickly.”

“If anything is to blame for tight margins, it’s previous governments’ history of incoherent energy policy,” said Paul Massara, former CEO of energy company RWE npower. “Investors need long-term clarity on policy, and they simply have not been getting it.”

“Look outside the UK and it’s clear that the direction of travel in is only in one direction, towards primarily low-carbon, flexible, smart energy systems,” said Andrew Garrad, senior consultant at DNV GL energy. “It’s been accelerated by the Paris climate agreement, and Britain is by no means ahead of the pack in this transition.”

Despite our record breaking year for renewables it is clear we are now falling behind. The UK renewables industry is grinding to a halt and new technologies such as smart grids, heat pumps and energy storage are not being implemented fast enough.

As the decline in new renewable energy installations continues then these records will stop being broken and without an adequate substitute carbon emissions will at best level out.

There will be small victories, such as a heat pump system for a new development, and as long as there are businesses and innovators brave enough to take a chance these will continue but in order to succeed overall we need everyone, especially the government, to focus on achieving more power from renewable generation, lower carbon emissions and a clean secure energy future for everyone.

 

Hydropower in Scotland

Research by renewable energy industry trade body Scottish Renewables has shown that all renewable hydro projects with planning permission in the UK are in Scotland. The announcement, made prior to the Scottish Renewables Hydro Conference and Exhibition in Perth on 18 May shows 14 schemes due to generate 26.8 MW of electricity are under construction including one 1.5MW project at the iconic Falls of Bruar in Perthshire, and another on the West Highland Way near Loch Lomond.

A further twenty seven projects potentially generating 58.5 MW have planning consent, from Stirlingshire to Sutherland and when constructed will be able to power up to 42,000 homes.

All the above proposed developments are in Scotland whilst none in England, Wales or Northern Ireland currently have the green light to proceed.

Speaking of the findings, Scottish Renewables policy officer Hannah Smith said “Scotland’s terrain and rainfall mean the country is ideal for the development of hydroelectricity, but the rest of the UK has historically invested in this technology too.”

Scottish Renewables also confirmed that UK government’s cuts to renewable subsides (a 37% reduction for hydro) has alarmed the hydro industry at the time when new schemes were being planning throughout the country.

Hannah Smith added “These figures show that a huge cut to support under the UK Government’s feed-in tariff review in December has already caused a contraction in the number of schemes being developed and, it seems, a geographical withdrawal to hydro’s traditional heartland.

“Hydro enjoys huge public support, so it was particularly galling to see cuts of 37% imposed on the sector last year.

“Developers are now looking to innovation to make projects financially viable, which is just one of the topics we’ll be discussing at our conference in May.”

The conference and exhibition, to be held at Perth Concert Hall, will look at alternative sources of finance and how communities can be better-engaged in novel financing alternatives; the future of hydro across Scotland; improving construction techniques to reduce cost and hydro’s role in the energy system.

There is a rich history of hydropower in Scotland dating back to the 1950s and a number of large scale installations developed by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. At the time it was a nationalised industry before being sold to the private sector in the 1980s. Many of the developments put in place at that time are still in operation and provide local communities with clean renewable energy.

It is estimated that a further 1.3GW of capacity could be available in Scotland via small and medium scale installations which would go a long way in reducing our carbon emissions. Hydropower is also a more constant source of renewable energy compared to other forms meaning an increase in capacity would lead to a more secure energy future.

Scotland is the windiest country in Europe which has played a large role in the success of the wind energy industry. As many of my fellow Scots will agree, we also get our fair share of rain. Using the plentiful natural resources to produce clean renewable energy is a logical step we should be taking in order to reduce the above mentioned carbon emissions.

Hydropower could be utilised well beyond its current capacity level but it needs a stable platform on which to build upon. With the legally binding carbon emission reductions due in four years it is our hope that hydropower along with other forms of renewable energy generation benefit from a shift of government policy.

After all it would be a shame not to utilise those plentiful resources.