The Scottish Government Draft Energy Strategy

The week the Scottish Government launched the draft Scottish Energy Strategy and commenced a consultation period for the plans lasting until May this year. Within the document the plans for Scotland’s heat, electricity, and transport energy sources to be in place by 2030.

At the Strategy and Consultation launch Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said that it “sets out a modern, integrated energy system that delivers reliable, low carbon energy at affordable prices to consumers in all parts of Scotland by 2050.”

The aim is to build upon the existing Scottish Energy sector, increase energy security, and tackle fuel poverty. This is to be achieved by a number of policies and plans including £50 million to support thirteen renewable energy and low carbon solutions for heating, electricity generation, and energy storage. This follows on from last week’s publication of the draft climate change plan which proposed the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 66% by 2032.

The new strategy document also confirms that underground coal gasification (UCG) the process used to extract natural gas from coal seams would not play any part in the country’s future energy mix. UCG was blocked by the Scottish government last year after an independent review raised “serious environmental concerns.”

On fracking Mr. Wheelhouse said “We will very shortly launch our full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas so that the people of Scotland can express their views on this important and contentious issue. The results of that consultation will be a key consideration in finalising our energy strategy later this year.”

The strategy document states ministers will then “consider the full range of evidence and make a recommendation to Parliament on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, and invite members of the Scottish Parliament to vote on the issue”.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament Mr Wheelhouse said “By the end of 2015 we had seen the largest annual increase in renewable heat output since measurement began, up by more than 1,100 GW hours in a single year. In 2015 Scotland produced enough heat from renewable sources to meet between 5.3 per cent and 5.6 per cent of non-electrical heat demand.

“We can all take pride in such successes however it’s clear that more progress will be required, particularly in the supply of low carbon heat and transport, if we are to remain on track to meet our ambitious climate change goals.

“To maintain momentum, a new 2030 all energy renewables target is proposed in our energy strategy, setting an ambitious challenge to deliver the equivalent of half of Scotland’s energy requirements for heat, transport and electricity from renewable energy sources.

“I hope that members will welcome this landmark proposal given the support shown for such an ambition last month in this chamber during the debate on support for Scotland’s renewables sector.”

Jenny Hogan policy director at Scottish Renewables said the proposals are a “landmark moment in Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The new draft strategy shows that Scotland is serious about building on the fantastic progress made in renewable power over the past decade and maintaining our position as a global leader in green energy.

“Setting a new target for renewables to deliver half of our energy needs by 2030 sends a strong signal that renewable energy will be at the heart of Scotland’s economy and is key to meeting our climate change targets at lowest cost.

“While ambitious, the target is achievable but absolutely depends on the right support from both the UK and Scottish Governments” she continued.

Gina Hanrahan, climate and energy policy officer at WWF Scotland said “The new all energy target sends a strong message to business and industry, both here and globally, that Scotland plans to build on its amazing progress on renewable electricity in the heat and transport sectors.”

Deirdre Michie, chief executive at industry body Oil & gas UK said “I welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition that oil and gas has an important part to play in Scotland’s energy mix going forward and that it is committed to supporting the policy of maximising economic recovery of the remaining hydrocarbons on the UK continental shelf.

“As we decarbonise towards 2050 and beyond, this sector can continue to make a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy. We support 330,000 jobs in the UK, 45 percent of which are in Scotland and many of which are highly skilled.

“The North East is a centre of excellence in areas such as subsea engineering, with potential to substantially grow the exports of supply chain goods and services, which in 2014 generated revenues of £16 billion for the UK economy.”

During the consultation period the Scottish Government will be canvassing views on a potential government owned Energy Company as well as renewable energy bonds.

Mr. Wheelhouse added “I am very keen to ensure this strategy, which helps to underpin key aspects of the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan which was published last week, is infused with the thoughts and views of people from right across Scotland and I would strongly encourage everyone to participate.”

The consultation has been greeted positively in Scotland with a touch of added caution. The targets are high however they are certainly achievable. In order for this to happen though there needs to be many changes in how we generate and distribute our energy. The policies discussed will go some way in achieving this but in our opinion more must be done and at a faster pace than previously if we are to reach our goals.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t set targets this high. For the benefit of us and our future generations we have to be ambitious in tackling our greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy generation. This consultation has set us on the right path but it is what happens next that will be the significant factor in giving us a safe, clean, and secure energy future.

Scotland’s New Energy Strategy

It is anticipated that the Scottish Government will launch its new Draft Energy Strategy next week and there has been a number of calls from environmental groups and industry figures for tough new targets and initiatives which could potentially aid in the reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

At present the Scottish Government has set the ambitious target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There are a number of factors which can lead to this and decarbonising the energy system is a key element.

The current target of 100% of domestic electricity generation to come from renewable sources is well on the way to being achieved having already reached the 2020 interim target of 50%. In 2015 59% of the domestic electricity was generated from renewable sources.

However there are no current targets for heat generation and transport and there are growing voices stating that all power needs should be included within any new targets should we have a realistic chance of making our overall emission reduction goal. Their main aim is include all power generation in our renewable energy target and although they concede that this may make 100% by 2030 impossible 50% of all power generation from renewable sources by 2030 isn’t.

RSPB Scotland has claimed that the Scottish Government has a monumental opportunity to transform the power system and state that more renewable energy projects of the right type in the right place that take consideration of the local environment are key to achieving climate ambitions and have announced ten recommendations they believe will help in getting it done. This includes developing innovative new technology such as floating wind turbines, which could minimise the potential impact on nature, as well as improving energy-efficiency to reduce wastage. “Committing to sourcing 50 per cent of Scotland’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 would send out a strong message that Scotland is dedicated to achieving its 2050 climate target whilst also protecting our amazing wildlife,” said Aedán Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland. “This really is a monumental opportunity for the Scottish Government to commit the country’s future to wildlife-friendly low-carbon energy.

“We’re currently a long way from meeting our 2050 climate target – this Scottish Energy Strategy is the chance for the government to show how serious it is about meeting this.”

Jenny Hogan, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, agrees with the RSPB and said the time is right to look beyond 2020 and set a new 50 per cent target claiming that this would let Scotland continue to build on the economic and environmental benefits the industry is already delivering.

One of the most difficult challenges in achieving 50% of all our power needs coming from renewable sources is heat generation as it accounts for more than half of our energy use and a large number of us use natural gas for this – a high greenhouse gas producer. Therefore the uptake of alternative systems on a national scale would go a long way in assisting our decarbonisation.

One example given which could help changing this is district heating schemes. District heating is much more efficient than individual systems and therefore uses much less carbon emitting fuels.

District heating systems can differ due to location and circumstance however most follow a similar path. Natural heat is extracted from a local body of water such as a river or loch cooling it by approximately 4 degrees. The heat extracted is enough to turn a sealed network of ammonia from a liquid to a gas which, through pressure, can heat water to 90 degrees. That water is then piped into people’s homes to heat their radiators.

Dave Pearson of Glasgow based heat pump installers Star Renewable Energy spoke to the BBC as to why these systems are not more commonly used. “I think it is a slightly abstract concept that we can harvest a river for heat. Rivers are quite chilly already.

“But really it’s down to bringing a combination of technology which we’re producing in our factory in Glasgow but also the imagination and the desire of the communities, the cities, the government to see better solutions.”

Prof Janette Webb, from the University of Edinburgh, says Scotland has a source of warm water which could be exploited. “Right across central Scotland, not only have we got a lot of surface water we’ve also got underground mines, which are flooded now, which have water, in the deeper mines anyway, at about 30 degree,” she said. “We could extract heat from that water and use that to heat our buildings.”

A combined heat and power system in Aberdeen is currently heating 2.500 council owned flats and public buildings and providing electricity to the grid. The power is produced by generators and the warm exhaust fumes create the heat. The long term plan is to convert the system to heat pumps using sea water.

Ian Booth, from Aberdeen Heat and Power, said: “Once the infrastructure is built you could actually bolt on at the front end other technologies as they improve.

“We’re replacing electric heating systems with a combined heat and power fuelled system. The impact on the environment is about a 40% reduction on carbon.”

It should be pointed out however that heat pump technology is not carbon free and it uses electricity which as coming from the national grid may or may not be from renewable sources.

If a large amount of homes and business do shift from gas fired heating to heat pumps then due to the grid being much less carbonised it will make a significant difference in terms carbon emissions.

There will be obstacles to attaining this though. Many homes are already equipped to be heated by gas or oil and the change they will be expensive. There is no reason however to why new builds cannot be fitted with this alternative technology instead.

Plus as the technology advance the costs will fall and the savings to be made at consumer level it will not be long before making the switch from gas or oil to heat pumps becomes commercially viable.

In order to reach that point though we need strong guidance, targets, and initiatives from the government in their draft energy strategy. We therefore look forward to reading what they propose.

 

 

 

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project

A new independent report by UK politician and former energy minister Charles Hendry has recommended the UK government seek a deal to help fund a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, Wales. The development which will be the first of its type in the world would bring 2,000 jobs to the area and potential provide enough energy to power 150,000 homes.

Mr. Hendry has been collating information over the past year for the report and hopes that this project could be the first of many throughout the country.  The project would involve 16 turbines along a breakwater but is hoped that this will a prototype for much larger lagoons. This would include one off the coast of Cardiff , Newport, Bridgwater Bay in Somerset, Colwyn Bay and west Cumbria, north of Workington.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of the publication of the report Mr Hendry said the lagoon would be a “world first” which was different to barrages elsewhere in the world as lagoons do not block the mouth of a river.

“We know it absolutely works. One of the great advantages is it completely predictable for all time to come – we know exactly when the spring tides and neap tides are going to be every single day for the rest of time.”

He said the best way to look at the cost was the subsidy required by the taxpayer over the lifetime of the project. This calculation gave “a very much lower figure than almost any source of power generation.”

However at present the UK will still need to agree a subsidy and issue a marine license. Developer Tidal Lagoon Power claim that that the Swansea project will test the technology but it will come into its own – and could eventually meet 8% of the UK’s energy needs – when the network of more cost-effective, larger lagoons come on stream over the next 10 years.

TLP forecasts that its lagoons would generate power for 120 years and is seeking a 90-year contract at £89.90 per mega watt hour (MWh). That would be below the £92.50 per MWh agreed for the new Hinkley C nuclear power station.

The Labour Party echoed Hendry’s call for ministers to swiftly conclude negotiations with the Tidal Lagoon Power on the guaranteed price of electricity from the Swansea project. “The government has repeatedly delayed this project, despite Labour backing it months ago. It’s time to stop dithering and get it built,” said the shadow energy secretary Clive Lewis.

Welsh MP Paul Flynn called tidal power “Wales’s North Sea oil” and Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, said he was “absolutely delighted” at the green light given by the former energy minister.

Hendry concluded “I don’t think I have ever been to a community where people are so enthusiastic about a power station. They see this as the project that will bring about the city’s regeneration.”

Tidal Lagoon Power has already spent £35m on the Swansea lagoon which if built will consist of a U-shaped breakwater across the city’s bay and use the incoming and outgoing tide to turn the 16 turbines and generate enough electricity for 150,000 homes.

The proposed development does however come with a caution. While environmental organisations, engineering groups and several analysts welcomed the review verdict, some conservationists raised concern over local impact on birds and fish. There is also a campaign against a quarry in Cornwall that would provide the rock for the breakwater wall.

The WWF and the RSPB both said they were worried about potential local ecological impacts from the lagoons. However Mr. Hendry said after Swansea was operational in 2022, there should be a pause of up to two years before the five bigger lagoons were approved, and any environmental problems could be weighed up then.

Taking all this into account Mr. Hendry confirmed he believed tidal power’s opportunities outweighed the risk, and argued the evidence was clear that the lagoons could be cost-effective and affordable. “I would strongly caution against ruling out tidal lagoons because of the hopes of other cheaper alternatives being available in the future.”

We are all for cost effective renewable energy projects and one of this scale ticks many of the boxes required to make it a success. However we also would like a measure of caution shown if this project is to proceed. Renewable energy on an industrial scale should only be developed if it does not compromise the environment.

At present it is unsure whether the Swansea Bay development can guarantee this. However if after the correct assessments show that the development can proceed without a detrimental effect then we would strongly support it.