Renewable links with Isles move a step closer

Last week the abundant renewable energy potential of the Scottish Isles and Islands took a step closer to being unlocked.

A report published last week for the Scottish and UK Governments by consultancy group Xero Energy has highlighted the actions which will need to be taken to ensure that the renewable resources available in areas such as the Shetland and Orkney Islands are available to the mainland. Much work will need to carried out to ensure that grid infrastructure is improved.

The key findings of the report are to considered by the intergovernmental Scottish Islands Renewables Group. These meetings are part of an ongoing collaborative process between the two governments to ensure that both Scottish and UK Renewable Energy 2020 targets are reached. Some of the reports key findings are as follows; certainty has to be provided for developers around the longevity of support from government which underpins the business case for sub-sea grid development,  the stability of grid charges, loan charges, and research funding support for grid connections for marine technologies such as tidal turbines.

One of the proposed sub-sea cables would stretch 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Gravis on the Isle of Lewis to Ullapool on the North-Western coast of Scotland. This cable would then link up to Beauly to Denny powerline. Great strides have been made on the Isles to unlock their renewable resources (work in which we at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) have been involved in) but grid connections have to be improved to allow power to be exported to the mainland.

Commenting on the publication of the report Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing commented:

“I welcome the publication of the Xero report, which will help us to address the critical remaining barriers to new transmission connections for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland Islands.

“The three island groups share significant challenges in getting grid connections off the drawing board in time to access support within the timeframe of the first Electricity Market Reform Delivery due to long lead-times and high costs for sub-sea connections – typically, upwards of four years to achieve approval and to build. The findings from this report will help us deal with these issues.

“There is wide acknowledgement across both the Scottish and UK Governments that the Scottish islands hold huge renewable energy potential, which could make a substantial contribution to both governments’ 2020 renewable energy targets and longer-term climate change ambitions.

“Our collaborative approach is based on this shared understanding, and through the work of the inter-governmental Scottish Islands Renewables Group, we will continue to build momentum towards delivery of these vital connections.”

UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey also released a statement:

“This report will play an important part in the next stage of our partnership work for renewable energy from the Scottish islands. We have already made more progress in the last year than for many years, after the UK Government announced last December additional support for onshore wind projects, with a special higher Scottish Islands strike price. While that initiative itself should unlock much potential green energy, I’m determined to tackle remaining issues despite the complexity involved.”

Last week also saw the publication of the Scottish Government’s Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Onshore Renewable Developments following an extensive period of consultation. These Principles have been designed to ensure that communities benefit from renewable energy developments in their area. The Scottish Government has already established a register of community benefits to allow communities to make sure they receive an appropriate  level of community benefit.

The key principle which has been unveiled is the promotion of a national community benefits package rate equivalent of at least £5,000 per Megawatt per year – index linked to inflation for the operational lifespan of developments. This would mean that, for example, a 20 Megawatt wind would generate a community benefit of at least £100,000 per year. At this point we are pleased to tell you that all of our developments at ILI (RE) already meet these requirements. All of our onshore wind developments have always included a community benefit which is directed to our local charity partners to ensure that communities benefit from our developments; even at the time when community benefits were not required by either national or local authorities.

Another key proposal of the new guidance is to encourage developers to to submit information on community benefits at the earliest possible stage of development. This is to allow communities to consider any proposals and develop ideas as to where such funding would be directed. Again we at ILI (RE) have always been proud of our community benefits and charity partnerships and have always sought to make local authorities aware of these.

Speaking at the fifth annual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing launched the publication of the Principles:

“Community benefits from renewable energy offer a unique and unprecedented opportunity to communities across Scotland. Today, I can confirm that there is now around 285 megawatts of such capacity operational across Scotland. That puts us well over half way towards the target, and represents an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year’s figure.

“The Good Practice Principles is a landmark moment in encouraging developers to invest in community benefit schemes arising from renewables development and overall contribute to our target.

“This Guidance has drawn mainly on experience from the onshore wind sector but the Scottish Government would like to see community benefits promoted across all renewables technologies.

“This document details good practice principles and procedures promoted by Scottish Government, and is intended as a practical guide to the process but also, through examples of what is already being achieved, as a showcase to inspire success.

“Featured schemes include the Allt Dearg Community Wind Farm, which, through partial community-ownership, generated £130,000 for the Ardrishaig Community Trust in the first nine months of operation to September 2013, and which is expected to generate £100,000 in annual income to the Trust.

“The Scottish Government is very keen to see other communities get the chance to invest in local developments like this, and that is why as part of the Principles we have set up a short-term industry working group to develop guidance to encourage community investment in commercial renewables schemes.”

Finally, this week saw the publication of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s latest (and ninth) quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker. The survey was conducted in over 2,000 UK households in late March and has allowed the government to keep track of public opinion and support for renewable energy. The results of the survey have revealed that public support for renewable energy has remained strong.

Indeed, 80% of respondents stated that they “supported the use of renewable energy to provide the UK’s electricity, fuel and heat”. Public levels of support have remained strong over the two year period in which these surveys have been carried out. This is despite the anti-renewables line taken by some mainstream media outlets over the course of this period. A majority of 59% of respondents stated that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable energy development in their area. This is a 4% increase compared to the survey published in March 2012 perhaps suggesting that more and more people are realizing the necessity of increasing the UK’s renewable energy capacity and the benefits which a renewable energy development can bring to an area.

It is also interesting to note that public support for individual forms of renewable energy generation have been unaffected by negative coverage in some parts of the media. Public support for onshore wind energy has reached an all time high of 70% indicating the public desire for more onshore wind developments. Both solar and offshore wind also saw record levels of support of  85% and 77% respectively.

One reason suggested for the entrenchment of public support for renewable energy is the increasing level of concern about climate change. According to survey climate change and energy security are now the joint fourth “biggest challenges facing the UK today”. The link between renewable energy and concern about climate change was illustrated by the publication of a report by the United Nations a few weeks ago; which outlined in the strongest possible terms that it is only through greatly increased use of renewable energy that disastrous climate change may be avoided.

With the media’s role in shaping public opinion on matters of energy generation under the spotlight it is extremely interesting to read the survey results on shale gas fracking. Some aspects are hugely in favor of shale gas fracking and have promoted it accordingly. Public awareness of the process of fracking has increased. In March 2013 48% of survey respondents were unaware of the process; this has now decreased to 25%. But, increased awareness has not translated into increased support. Under 30% of respondents supported shale gas fracking; very much a minority and very much in contrast to the majority support received by renewable energy.

Reading the news this week one can see the image of a renewably powered UK beginning to take shape. With a majority of the public in favor, community benefit guidelines being established and moving a step closer to unlocking the renewable potential of the Scottish Isles one can see the direction in which we are heading. We at ILI (RE) look forward to playing our part in realizing this.

Construction begins on £1bn Grid Link

Construction work has begun this week on the new £1 billion grid link between Hunterston in Ayrshire and Connah’s Quay in Wales. This marks the commencement of what is expected to be the first of several major grid upgrade projects which are to be carried out across the UK.

The 260 mile (418 kilometer) long undersea electricity transmission line is expected to be fully operational by 2016. The project will directly support 450 jobs during the construction period. This is a joint venture between Scottish Power and the National Grid. The new link, the first sub-sea link between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, could increase the capacity of electricity moving between Scotland and England by 2,000 megawatts. This represents enough electricity to power more than 4 million British homes.

The inter-connector, known as the Western Link HVDC (high-voltage direct-current) project is intended to open up the potential for Scottish wind energy to be supplied to areas of high population density, high-energy demand and low renewable generation potential found over the border. Such a move not only creates a bigger market and more demand for Scottish wind power but it also helps both the UK and Scotland meet their renewable energy targets. A similar project is being planned for the East Coast.

Announcing the commencement of construction Scottish Power’s chairman Ignacio Galan commented:

“We are pleased to mark the start of construction on this hugely ambitious sub-sea electricity connection project.

“Our engineers are currently delivering some of the most important upgrades to the electricity network for more than half a century, with billions of pounds being invested and thousands of jobs being supported and created.

“The Western Link project will act as a benchmark for similar developments around the world, as the deployment of this technology at such a large scale has never been undertaken before.

“This will help to increase energy security across the UK, and will benefit the people of Scotland, England and Wales.”

UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon also stated:

“The western link is a perfect symbol of the single energy market, of which Scotland is part. It will enable English and Welsh consumers to access Scottish renewables and enable Scots to benefit from base load power when the wind doesn’t blow. This world leading, billion pound under-sea connector shows the strength of our current integrated system.”

The Western Link project is a part of Scottish Power Energy Network’s wider £2.6 billion investment plans for their transmission network covering the 8-year period from 2013 to 2021. The plans are intended to deliver the following; direct creation of up 1,500 new jobs, facilitation of offshore and onshore wind generation in Scotland of around 11 GW (enough to power over 6 million British homes), reduced carbon emissions of 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, replacement of over 800 km of overhead power lines and an increase in export capacity from Scotland to England of nearly 4 gigawatts. Such an ambitious investment program demonstrates both the potential of Scotland’s renewable energy resources and the commitment to realizing them.

In other news this week, data published this week by Eurostat (the European Union’s statistics office) revealed that renewable energy met 14.1% of total energy demand within the European Union in 2012 (these are the most recent figures available). This represents an increase of 5.8% compared to 2004 when renewable energy met 8.3% of the Union’s total energy demand.

During this time every single member state of the Union has increased their renewable energy capacity. Perhaps somewhat startlingly, several member states have already reached and went beyond their binding 2020 renewable energy targets.

Sweden, Austria and Denmark were the three countries which underwent the largest growth in renewable energy capacity between 2004 and 2012. Sweden, which in 2004 derived 38.7% of its power from renewables, lifted that to 51% in 2012. In Denmark, the share of renewables rose from 14.5% to 26%, while in Austria it jumped from 22.7% to 32.1%. Three countries have already met their individual 2020 targets; Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden. These three countries had 2020 goals of 16%, 25% and 49%, respectively. At the end of 2012 they had achieved respective renewable energy shares of 16.3%, 25.2% and 51%. Of course it should be re-iterated at this point that the figures published by Eurostat do not cover the year 2013 – a period of remarkable growth in UK renewable energy capacity, particularly wind generation capacity. It should also be remembered that several countries, particularly Sweden, started with far, far higher initial renewable energy capacities than the UK due to abundant hydro-generation resources.

We at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) are delighted to see ambitious and extensive upgrades being carried out to the electricity transmission network, particularly given our own efforts in this field. Such work not only improves the country’s infrastructure but also allows Scotland’s renewable energy potential (the envy of Europe in this regard) to be fully realized. Long range energy transmission also serves to reduce instances of renewable energy generation technology having to be turned off at times of low demand. Finally it helps to further reduce the United Kingdom’s reliance upon fossil fuel imports at a time when the vulnerability of such markets could not be clearer.