Decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system

New data released this week from the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shows that despite the majority of the UK’s energy system still being powered by fossil fuels the level is reducing and at no point since the introduction of commercial electricity and gas has the use of fossil fuels been this low.

UK energy fossil fuel usage fell in the third quarter of last year by 2% on a year to year basis to 78.7%. This also marks a reduction of almost 10% since the beginning of 2013 which perfectly illustrates the changes our energy systems have been going through over the last few years.

Low carbon energy now makes up 50% of the UK’s electricity mix whilst coal now only provides 3.6% of the power going to the grid confirming that the 2025 target of phasing out coal power completely from the grid is on track.

Also in the new figures from BEIS renewables now make up 25% of the country’s electricity supply with nuclear proving the same and gas adding 43.6%.

There is however concern that without further action and policies to encourage more clean renewable energy sources decarbonisation progress is likely to stall. A new emissions reduction plan has been promised by the government which is set to include details of new policies designed to continue the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

One such new technology which should be prominently used in our quest to reduce of carbon emissions is floating wind farms and this week the Highland Council in Scotland approved a floating wind farm demonstration to be constructed near Thurso called the Dounreay Tri floating offshore wind farm project.

Traditional offshore wind farms are restricted by the depth of the ocean that they are situated in with relatively shallow waters required as at deeper levels they become too dangerous, difficult, and costly to build. Floating offshore wind turbines therefore open up the possibility of installation much further out to sea where wind is stronger and more consistent. Also floating wind turbine technology has evolved into more stable structures recently making the project more viable.

Scotland’s Highland Council approved the Dounreay Trì floating offshore wind farm project this week, opening up the way for Marine Scotland to now complete its assessment and make a recommendation on the project to Scottish Ministers by the 31st of March.

The demonstration will consist of two 5MW turbines and if successful will produce enough electricity to supply approximately 8,000 homes.  Also more importantly it demonstrate the viability of floating offshore wind farms particularly in the deeper waters of the North and West coasts of Scotland.

Marcus Thor, Project Director for Dounreay Trì Limited, commenting on the Council’s decision said “We are delighted that the Council has agreed with this project and hope that Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government can take a timely decision on it. This demonstration facility which will be built and operated in Scotland opens up the possibility for a significant increase in offshore wind generation and associated supply chain benefits in Scotland.”

Speaking of the news of the approval Lang Banks director at WWF Scotland said “This proposal still has a few planning process steps to go through. However, successfully developing floating turbines could enable Scotland and other nations to secure even more clean power from offshore wind in the future. Whatever the outcome of these proposals, we will certainly need lots more conventional offshore wind in the future.”

Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables Lindsay Roberts said “Scotland is home to approximately 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resource and we are now starting to build out projects which will harness this potential. We’re also at the forefront of innovation in this exciting sector and projects like this one are part of a new chapter for our renewable energy industry.”

In order to achieve the level of decarbonisation of our energy system required in order to reach our targets – and hopefully go beyond – more technological advancements like those which have made floating wind turbines possible are needed.

In order for this to happen investment in research and development must be encouraged and actively sought. This can be achieved by both new government policies such as those touched upon above and a focussed and determined industry.

Reaching the targets can be achieved but it will require us all to be pulling in the one direction.

The Scottish Government on our Renewable Future

This week Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse spoke to the Press and Journal of the challenges the government and country faces producing long term clean reliable energy sources.

“The Scottish Government’s adoption of policies to build clean, green energy technologies and infrastructure was a bold step, but the fact we are not only meeting our targets, but exceeding them, shows it was the right thing to do.

“However, we can’t rest on our laurels. There is plenty left to do if we are to continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, meet the proposed targets set in our Draft Energy Strategy to produce half of all heat, transport and electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030 and a largely decarbonised energy system by 2050.

“Whilst we must rely on a range of technologies to deliver against these targets, onshore wind will be a key technology in the transition.

“Onshore wind developments already produce enough electricity to power equivalent to 3 million households in Scotland, generating over £3.2 billion in turnover per year for Scotland’s economy. Not only does onshore wind benefit the national economy, they also positively impact individual communities.

“Communities around Scotland are now entering partnerships with wind farm developers and local landowners, an excellent example of this is Soirbheas which is a community charity that aims to strengthen and support the communities of Glen Urquhart and Strathglass who have partnered with Corrimony Energy to own a fifth of the wind farm. This will generate an estimated £20m for the charity over 20 years.

“Of course, alongside building an environmentally sustainable future for the next generation, we must manage our land positively and sympathetically.

“It is unavoidable that transitioning to a low carbon economy will involve construction of new energy projects, including wind-farms, where appropriate.

“However, our natural environment is one of Scotland’s most precious resources and all proposed developments are rightly subject to strict planning laws designed to protect our environment and those who live locally.

“By seeking and listening to public opinion through consultations such as the draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement published last month, we will continue our commitment to achieving progress towards our vital climate change targets while ensuring projects are designed with due regard for Scotland’s world-class natural environment.”

The potential benefits that the draft energy strategy can bring will be felt throughout the country for generations to come. No doubt there will be some issues along way but if we all work together what we can achieve will be to everyone’s benefit.

In other Scottish news Scottish Water one the largest consumers of electricity in Scotland has for first time generated more renewable energy than it uses by increasing efficiency as well as generation capacity.

Scottish Water requires 445 GWh of electricity per year to run its operations across 4,500 sites including water and waste water treatment works. In 2011 in an effort to reduce their energy costs and increase renewable generation they started work on their own generation facilities and now own and operate 28 hydro turbines, 18 small scale wind turbines, 24 solar array parks, 2 biomass plants, and 3 C.H.P. plants.

All these led to the company reaching the milestone of a generation surplus.

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform with the Scottish Government, speaking of the announcement said: “By generating and hosting more renewable power than they consume, (Scottish Water) are providing a great example to other companies. For them, renewable power is lowering their electricity bill – helping to keep customers’ water charges low.

Chris Toop, General Manager of Scottish Water’s energy programme, said: “Facilitating more renewable power than we consume makes a significant contribution to keeping the long-term cost of providing vital water and waste water services as low as possible, while supporting national economic, carbon and renewable energy targets.

“We have invested in a number of innovative measures such as low-carbon, low-cost treatment technologies and doubled our renewable energy capacity to more than 54GWh through hydro, wind, photovoltaic solar, biomass boilers and combined heat and power (CHP).”

Since 2013 Scottish Water have installed 4,000 smart meters raising annual financial benefits by more than £7 million and reduced carbon emissions by 16% since 2006. The company’s commercial subsidiary has invested £16 million in renewable technologies since 2011 and has committed a £50 million to sustainable energy production.

Roseanna Cunningham concluded: “As we consult on Scotland’s draft Energy Strategy, this impressive achievement shows that the Government’s ambition to reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions by 66 per cent by 2032 is realistic.”

The size of the task ahead in order to reach our goals of carbon emission reduction dictates that everybody including government and industry must be on side if it is to be achieved.

Scottish Water is a fine example of how using the facilities available can achieve fantastic results and government is engaging with more and more businesses and industries in order to help them set up similar projects.

In the short term however there will be costs but as Scottish Water have shown in the long and probably even medium term both economically and environmentally it is worth it.

 

Scotland’s first carbon neutral town

Plans are afoot to make Cumnock in Ayrshire Scotland’s first “Green Town” by making it carbon neutral with projects such as a community owned renewable energy system and the introduction of hi-tech digital systems and smart technologies. If successful it is expected that the project will be extended to further Scottish towns.

The project has been proposed by Scotland’s Towns Partnership and has been backed by the Scottish Government and Ayrshire Council with Scottish Power and British Telecom also supporting the plans.

Cumnock – which was previously a mining community – has 1300 residents, an amount thought to be perfect to test the project’s  different renewable technologies on a mass scale as well as a new smart grid and metres, a high speed communications network, new carbon neutral buildings and a series of cycle paths and electric vehicle initiatives.

Phil Prentice the head of Scotland’s Towns Partnership said “The vision for Cumnock is to create Scotland’s first truly sustainable energy town, a town which is carbon neutral and highly functioning but which respects the environment.

“Why not have Cumnock as the first town that owns and manages its own renewable energy supply, where education and business opportunities are improved through digital deployment and where smart meters, passive buildings, recovered brown space, cycling and pedestrianisation become the norm?”

He also stated that there are several other locations which the project’s blueprint could be incorporated.

“There are a hundred Cumnocks, small towns across Scotland,” he said. “These are the places that once were useful but then the industry left. Cumnock provided Scotland with the coal to power houses and businesses for generations. Now we are going to lead the way to show how energy can transform our future generations.”

Those involved met last week for the first time to rubber stamp the proposals and devise action plans with local community groups. It is expected that the initial work will commence on many of these within six months and that though it would be a long-term project we hoped many of its ambitious targets would be achieved in the first five years, with carbon neutral status reached within a decade.

Graham Campbell, district general manager for Scottish Power Energy Networks, claimed the town was ideally placed to embrace renewable energy with rivers and burns running through it that could be harnessed for hydro power and plenty of great sites to make use of wind energy.

He stated “the energy network is changing and we are now seeing a bigger uptake of low carbon technologies but that has been at a very local level. This is an opportunity to put Cumnock back on the map.”

He also claimed that a community run energy network could not only supply energy for the whole town’s needs but sell back additional energy to the grid.

“The reality is that this type of development is going to happen anyway. If we don’t take the initiative and do it then the private sector will leap in and reap the benefits. The community will be shut out. The revolution is already under way.”

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council, said: “This is a hugely positive idea that could provide massive benefits for Cumnock and indeed the whole of Scotland.

“Although the idea is still at a very early stage, many different agencies including the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Towns Partnership have met with Cumnock Action Plan steering group to discuss what they could do to help Cumnock become Scotland’s greenest town.” All are committed to working together to bring the plans to reality, he added.

“Becoming a fully green town would obviously be a long-term project, but the opportunities it would present in terms of taking people out of fuel poverty, increasing jobs and boosting tourism are exciting ones.”

Speaking of the announcement a Scottish Government spokesperson said they will continue to “support regeneration, develop a sustainable economy, improve energy efficiency, tackle fuel poverty and consider how we can take this forward in other communities across in Scotland.”

The idea of carbon neutral town is a fantastic one but it will take a lot of time and money to implement all of the factors. That said it is an objective we should be aiming for if we wish to reach the targets set out in Government’s Draft Energy strategy which was released last week.

Staying in Scotland although moving much further north it has been stated that the UK Government could make a difference to the Scottish Island communities if the views from a recent consultation on island wind projects are taken into consideration.

SNP MP Angus MacNeil and MSP Dr. Alasdair Allan both submitted formal responses on whether future island wind projects should receive a subsidy despite the government already cutting subsidies throughout the UK. They are however considering treating remote islands differently.

Mr. MacNeil and Dr. Allan met with community and wind energy representatives prior to a meeting with Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for BEIS.

Mr MacNeil said: “I was encouraged by my meeting with the Secretary of State earlier this month and I really hope the UK Government will listen to the many representations which have been made to them on this issue.

“There is a strong view from the island energy sector that support from the UK Government is crucial as the way forward.

“This is a chance for the UK Government to make a real difference to island communities while at the same time reaping the benefits for the UK economy. The islands have the best wind resource in Europe and supporting non-mainland onshore wind through the Contract for Difference scheme offers the best value for money option for the UK Government.

“I look forward to discussing this with the Secretary of State when he visits the islands in the coming weeks.”

Dr. Allan added “The result of this consultation will be critical to the future of renewable development on the islands.

“There has been widespread support for further development of island renewables from the Scottish Government, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, local Parliamentarians, developers and, most crucially, communities themselves.

“There are hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment from shovel-ready projects across the Western Isles that simply need the necessary infrastructure in place before they can be unlocked. The UK Government must now listen to reason and allow the island renewable sector the support it deserves.“

At ILI Energy we believe in subsidies in consideration for renewable projects in all regions of the country however we accept that they are unlikely to return any time soon. We can also appreciate that due a number of factors, particularly distance from generation facilities, these remote island communities deserve a subsidy on renewable energy projects more than most.

Therefore we hope that the UK Government take on board the consultation findings and offer a subsidy which allows the development of the renewable energy generation facilities and provides the islands with a secure supply of clean energy.