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.

New poll reveals support for renewables

Yesterday the Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s eight quarterly public attitudes survey.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,110 households in mid December. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

77% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

This represents a 1% increase on the level of public support recorded in the previous survey. This is despite the long running campaign against renewable energy being carried out by several mass media publications. Not to mention the campaign for shale gas extraction being carried out by several of the same publications. Despite this more than three quarters of the Great British public support the continued and further use of renewable energy technologies.

51% of those people polled signaled that they “support” the use of renewable energy technologies. A further 26% of those polled responded that they “strongly support” the use of renewable energy technologies. In dramatic comparison only 4% of those polled gave the opinion that they opposed the exploitation of renewable energy resources. A further 1% “strongly opposed” the use of renewable energy. This comparison demonstrates that in reality anti-renewable energy sentiments are very much a minority, if not fringe, concern. This contrasts sharply with the picture presented in some avenues of the mainstream press which seek to portray such opinions as being held by the majority of people in this country.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 71% for wave and tidal energy, 72% for offshore wind generation, 64% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. Additionally the levels of “strong support” given for each technology type stands consistently between one quarter and one third of respondents. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

The survey also demonstrated that public awareness of shale gas and shale gas extraction has increased significantly in the last few years. When these quarterly surveys were first carried out two years ago 58% of respondents were unaware of shale gas. As of now this figure has decreased to 30% of respondents. Over the same time scale respondents “who know something” about shale gas have increased from 32% to 52%.

However increased awareness has not translated into increased support. This quarterly survey was the first to gauge public support for shale gas. Despite much coverage in the media and strong messages of support from some senior political figures only 27% of respondents stated that they would support shale gas development. 21% stated that they would not support shale gas development. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying in those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

Also this week it was announced that Glasgow City Council is to become the first local authority in the UK to switch to low energy LED (light-emitting diode) street lighting after securing a loan from the Green Investment Bank.

Glasgow City Council intends to convert over 70,000 street lights to LEDs in an effort to reduce costs, energy consumption and light pollution. Street lighting costs Local Authorities in the UK  £300 million a year and produces 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. For some Local Authorities street lighting can account for up to 40% of their energy usage. The Green Investment Bank has voiced it’s hopes that other Local Authorities will follow Glasgow City Council in participating in such schemes.

Indeed to that end the Bank is offering similar loan packages to that given to Glasgow City Council to other Local Authorities. To fund LED street lighting conversion schemes the Bank is offering low, fixed rate loans over a period of up to 20 years. Repayments will be taken from energy bill savings. The Bank is advising Local Authorities that LED switching delivers pay-back within 5 to 15 years. Following this Local Authorities can expect bills to drop by up to 80%.

The securing of the loan was announced with enthusiasm from all parties. UK Green Investment Bank chief executive, Shaun Kingsbury, stated:

“Bad lighting does not come cheap, it carries an electricity bill which can be cut by up to 80 per cent with a move to low energy, LED lighting.  Making the switch saves councils money, increases community safety and dramatically reduces the UK’s carbon footprint.”

“The GIB Green Loan is essentially a corporate loan facility that covers the set-up, capital investment and installation costs of lighting upgrades to LED, with repayments being made from within forecast savings.  Put more simply, local authorities borrow money from the Green Investment Bank, but repay the loan entirely through the money they save by changing their lighting.”

Business Secretary, Vince Cable said:

“Once again the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) is leading the way in the green revolution. Street lighting across Britain tends to be very costly and energy inefficient, emitting the same amount of carbon dioxide each year as a quarter of a million cars on the road. This investment by GIB into new LED technology could make big strides in saving money for local councils and reducing our carbon footprint. I urge councils across the country to follow Glasgow City Council’s lead and GIB’s new Green Loan can help speed up the take up of this streetlighting.

“So far through the Green Investment Bank – the first of its kind in the world – we have invested more than £750 million in energy projects which are driving innovation and our plans for green growth. For every £1 the bank has invested, £3 has been raised from the private sector for projects in areas ranging from offshore wind to waste to energy efficiency products.”

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“My vision is to make Glasgow one of Europe’s most sustainable cities. It is our goal to improve energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and generate savings for the public purse. Glasgow City Council is not only creating a digital and low carbon route out of recession with social justice at its heart, but also ensuring Glasgow is one of Europe’s most sustainable cities.

“Glasgow is leading the way in meeting existing challenges head on to become a smarter, more intelligent city. One of our current measures is set to see us become the first local authority to receive a Green Investment Bank loan as we work towards further embracing low energy streetlighting.”

Support for renewable energy and energy-saving schemes such as that announced in Glasgow yesterday remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.

 

Island Interconnectors would qualify for Green Bank funding

Aside

Mike Mackenzie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, has confirmed with the UK’s Green Investment Bank that projects involving the installation of interconnectors  to Scotland’s Islands would fit their funding criteria.

The installation of interconnectors would offer several benefits to both residents of the islands and the mainland. Interconnectors would allow for renewable energy which is being generated on the islands to be transmitted to the mainland. This would open up a a large amount of renewable energy capacity to the UK’s electricity grid. Some of the country’s most suitable sites for renewable energy development, particularly in the marine and offshore wind sectors, are to be found in the isles. However the relative lack of energy demand on the islands acts as a hindrance to such developments. The installation of interconnectors would not only help to provide additional energy security to the UK’s electricity consumers and help to keep energy prices down it would also provide inward investment to the people of the islands.

The Green Investment Bank, which was launched in 2012, was established to provide funding to projects which would “accelerate the UK’s transition to a  green economy”. Already funding has been provided to a wide variety of projects including offshore wind farms, several biomass projects and hospital energy efficiency schemes. Interconnector projects, which would open up so much potential energy generation, would very possibly fall under the umbrella of offshore wind or marine energy projects which are at this time considered to be a priority by the Green Investment Bank.

An example of the projects which could proceed given the installation of interconnectors would be the proposed Beaw Field wind farm on the isle of Shetland. It has already been confirmed that the proposed project, which could produce up to 100 megawatts of power, will only proceed if an interconnector is installed between Shetland and the mainland. The installation of an interconnector itself is dependant upon another develoment on the isle proceeding – the 457MW Viking Energy wind farm which has been granted planning permission. The nature of these two schemes also demonstrates the onshore wind potential of the Islands.

Confirmation was gained by Mr Mackenzie at last week’s meeting of the Scottish Governments Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which was taking evidence from the Green Investment Bank’s Chairman, Chief Executive and Operation’s Director. When asked by Mr Mackenzie if the Bank would consider investment in interconnector projects Sean Kingsley, Chief Executive, responded that he felt this to be a “great idea”.

Following the conclusion of the committee Mr Mackenzie made the following comment:

“This is fantastic news for the Highlands and Islands. I am pleased to see that there is a possibility of investment from the Green Investment Bank and I will be following up today’s exchange in the committee with a letter to the bank to try and help turn those words into action.”

“Renewable energy projects, both large and small, on Scotland’s Islands are currently disadvantaged because they are unable to transport their energy to the grid. Because of their great natural resources their potential is massive – as the recent Scottish Islands Renewable Report illustrated –New submarine cables [interconnectors] are urgently needed to transport the significant amounts of renewable electricity which can be generated on Scotland’s islands to mainland consumers, so these interconnectors would be a great low-risk investment for the bank.

“I sincerely hope that this investment possibility is followed up by the bank, and I look forward to hearing further from them on this matter.”

Additionally, last week the BBC carried out an energy survey as part of Radio Five Live’s Energy Day. Energy Day saw an entire day’s worth of programming transmitted from a temporary studio powered entirely by renewable energy. Energy was generated from a variety of sources including solar panels, onshore wind turbines and even exercise bikes!

The survey, which interviewed 1035 adults, found that a significant majority of the public would be happy to see renewable energy developments take place in their local area. 67% of those surveyed would be happy to see more wind farms and 84% gave their approval to more solar developments.This is in stark contrast to shale gas fracking which found support from a minority of only 33% of the population.

Dale Vince, founder of British green energy company Ecotricty remarked; “The fact 67% of people support having more wind farms in their area is not a surprise at all – every public survey for the past two decades has come back with the same result.”

The survey also revealed the existence of  a generation gap in feelings towards renewable energy. Whilst a majority of 54% of those aged over 65 said they would be happy to see more wind energy developments in their local area this figure rose significantly to 82% of those aged between 25-34. It has often been said that renewable energy is the future. Demographics would seem to support this opinion.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy development potential in the world and the Scottish Islands have some of the best renewable energy development potential in the UK.  The installation of interconnectors between the Islands and the mainland would unlock a large amount of this potential. Providing energy security for all and much needed  inward investment to some of the country’s most isolated communities.

 

New surveys reveals continuing support for renewable energy

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s sixth quarterly tracker survey yesterday.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,124 households in early July. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

76% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

Whilst this represents a very slight decline from previous survey results it should be pointed out that the poll was conducted at the height of the shale gas industry’s media blitz, particularly within the right wing press.

This media campaign does not appear to have had the desired affect. There was no change in the level of people who oppose or strongly oppose renewable energy. Only 5% of those polled gave this opinion; demonstrating that this view remains the preserve of an extremist minority. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

18% of those surveyed commented that they had no opinion on renewable energy development. This equals the highest level recorded since the surveys were first carried out. Again this suggests that the campaign against renewables in some parts of the media is failing to have the desired affect.

The poll also revealed further positive news for the renewable energy industry. 71% of the people polled gave the opinion that they believe renewable energy to be economically beneficial to the UK. This is a 2% increase from the 69% of people who gave this opinion in the previous survey. Furthermore, 56% revealed that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable development in their local area. Again this was an increase from the previous poll in which 55% gave this opinion. The upwards trend of these opinions can perhaps be attributed to the fact that more renewable energy developments have came online in the time between the two surveys. More people have had a chance to see the economic benefits of renewable energy development in terms of community contributions and job creation. As the positive impacts of renewable energy are felt more widely one can expect the upwards trend of such opinions to continue.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 72% for wave and tidal energy, 71% for offshore wind generation, 65% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

In contrast to the continuing support for renewable energy nuclear power saw its support amongst the public continue to decline. Only 37% of those involved in the poll gave their support to its use in the UK. The level of support for nuclear has declined of several quarterly surveys and one can perhaps expect this trend to continue given the continued presence of the Fukushima disaster in the news. 25% of those polled opposed the use of nuclear power (contrasted with the 5% who did not support nuclear) and 35% had no opinion. The decline in support for nuclear as well as the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of new nuclear plants being built indicates that renewables will very much remain key to UK government energy policy.

DECC has long maintained that it regards the future of UK energy generation to be the use of a variety of different energy sources; what is often referred as the ‘mixed portfolio’. This stance continues to have a strong level of support from the UK public with 81% of those polled giving their backing to this policy.

The poll has revealed some of the issues which DECC is facing in terms of public awareness. 74% of people polled commented that they had thought ‘a fair amount’ or indeed a lot about home energy efficiency. Despite this and the launch of the Green Deal this year 47% revealed that they had never heard of smart meters. More will need to be done in this area but it should be noted that this figure represents an improvement on the 53% who gave the same answer in the previous quarter. Additionally the widespread roll out of smart meters (all homes and businesses are expected to have smart meters installed by 2020) is not scheduled to begin until 2015.

The fact that there exists a majority consensus on climate change is also good news for the renewable industry with 66% of the public fairly or very concerned about the issue. 38% of those polled attributed climate change mainly or entirely to human causes. 42% felt that it was being caused by a combination of human and natural causes and only 12% giving the opinion that it was being caused mainly or solely due to natural developments. These results indicate that the debate on the widespread use of renewable energy is far better placed in the UK than it is in a country such as the United States where the climate change debate is far more divisive both publicly and politically. A consensus existing on climate change means that the debate can move forward to how best to address it; which renewable energy generation can play an extremely major part in doing.

Support for renewable energy remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.

 

Chris Huhne comes out fighting for Renewable Energy

Chris Huhne’s speech to the RenewableUK Conference

“Our location is rather appropriate. Manchester was the thumping heart of the industrial revolution. This was the world’s first industrial city. It is home to the first industrial canal, and the world’s oldest railway station.

The foundations for our prosperity were laid here. The engines which drove Britain’s extraordinary economic growth were built here – from the spinning mule to the steam engine.

We could not have picked a better place to discuss their modern equivalents.

Revolution

Renewable energy technologies will deliver a third industrial revolution. Its impact will be every bit as profound as the first two. My argument today is a simple one: the revolution has already begun.

From the Western Isles to the Isle of Wight – across the length and breadth of Britain. New companies are creating new jobs, delivering the technologies that will power our future.

As we look to pull ourselves out of recovery and back to prosperity, renewable energy can light the way.

Today, I want to look at the contribution renewable energy is making to our economy right now. The investment it is sparking, the jobs it is delivering, the growth it is creating.

And I will look at what we can to do encourage that growth – and sustain those jobs.

But first, I want to take aim at the faultfinders and curmudgeons who hold forth on the impossibility of renewables – the unholy alliance of climate sceptics and armchair engineers who are selling Britain’s ingenuity short.

Renewables are too expensive”, they cry. “They cannot deliver energy at scale.

“They are uneconomic, unreliable and unwanted.”

It is time to retire these myths.

Money

Let us start with the most egregious: that renewables are too expensive; that they could not exist without public subsidy; that they are held up by government cash alone.

Last year, global investment in renewable energy rose by 32% to $211 billion. And $142 billion of that was new financial investment, which excludes government and corporate R&D.

Renewables are grabbing a large and growing share of new energy investment.

Yes, some of that investment is attracted by public subsidy. But globally, subsidies for fossil fuels outstrip subsidies for renewables by a factor of five.

We subsidise renewables to bring on deployment and reduce costs. And we’ve seen some remarkable successes.

Right now, support for renewable energy costs the average household less than sixpence a day. But decades of underinvestment in energy efficiency and reliance on fossil fuels costs us much, much more.

About half of the average household bill goes on wholesale gas and electricity costs. These costs are highly volatile, and as Ofgem make clear, the higher gas price is the real reason bills have been going up over the past eight years.

That is why we need a flexible energy portfolio.

And that’s where the counter-argument of the climate sceptics falls down. “Forget wind farms”, they say. “Shale gas will be our saviour. We should abandon everything else.”

I don’t believe government should pick winners. And if you do, I refer you to a Department of Trade and Industry white paper from 2004 that estimated oil would reach $23 per barrel by 2010. Even last year my own Department forecast oil at $80 per barrel. Brent crude is currently trading at $110 per barrel.

Lashing our economy to a single energy source is a risky business.

We don’t yet know the full extent of shale gas here; how economically or environmentally viable it will be to extract, or by when. At best, it is years away.

Unconventional gas has not yet lit a single room nor cooked a single roast dinner in the UK.

Yet those who clamour loudest for “realistic” energy policies would have us hitch our wagon to shale alone. Shale gas may be significant. It is exciting. But we do not yet know enough to bet the farm on it. Faced with such uncertainty we do what any rational investor does with their own pension fund – we spread our risks, we have a portfolio.

Capacity

The second fallacy is that renewables cannot deliver energy reliably or at scale.

But today, more than 10 gigawatts of our electricity capacity is renewable. That’s enough to power six million homes.

And with every passing year, renewable energy takes over another percentage point of global electricity capacity.

In 2007, 5% of the world’s electricity was renewable. In 2008, it was 6%. In 2009, 7%. And last year, 8%. And it’s still growing. More than a third of the new capacity added last year – some 60GW – was from non-hydro renewables. The message is clear: when we build new power plants, increasingly we choose renewables.

In fact, renewable energy can make our system more secure – not less. According to the International Energy Agency, renewables increase the diversity of electricity sources, making energy systems more flexible – and more resistant to shocks.

Yes, some renewable technologies are intermittent. But the Committee on Climate Change estimates that even with 65% of our energy provided by renewables in 2030, intermittency may cost just 1p per kilowatt hour.

And providing back-up for intermittent renewables is just not that expensive. We already swing from a low of demand of 40GW to a high of 80GW every day. Peaking plant has long been part of our mix. Without such backup the nation’s kettles would be cold in the Coronation St ad breaks.

Every year, renewable energy is attracting more investment and delivering more capacity. It is also gathering more support. One hundred and nineteen countries have renewable energy targets or policies – up from an estimated 55 just six years ago.

Attractiveness

That brings me to the third great misconception about renewable energy: that it is unwanted.

Earlier this year, Ipsos MORI polled a thousand UK adults on which energy source they preferred. By a clear margin, people favoured renewables.

Eighty-eight per cent of those polled viewed solar power favourably; 82% for wind, 76% for hydroelectric, 57% for biomass.

The highest placed traditional energy source for electricity was gas, at 56%.

Seventy-three per cent of people would support a new wind farm in their area, as opposed to just 21% for a new coal plant.

When you get behind the headlines, you find that support for renewable energy is strong – and growing.

And so is its contribution to our economy.

Economy

Across the United Kingdom, renewables are providing jobs, investment and growth.

And the numbers are really starting to add up.

Over the last financial year, nearly 4,500 new jobs were created in the low-carbon sector, which grew by 4.3%.

Fifty-one thousand and six hundred companies in Britain provide low-carbon and environmental goods and services. Exports are now £11.3 billion, up 3.9%.

By Christmas we will have 3GW of biomass installed, and by Easter 5GW of onshore wind. In the past seven months alone, plans for £1.69 billion of investment and 9,500 jobs have been announced.

Here in the North West, more than 950 jobs: 340 at the Siemens Renewable Energy Engineering Centre, just a few miles down the road; up to 600 over the next decade at Cammell Laird; three new Farmgen developments planned in Cumbria, with hundreds of jobs.

This is the sharp reality of green growth. At a time when closures and cuts dominate the news cycle, next-generation industries are providing jobs just as in the recovery after the last deep depression in 1929 to 1931. It is new and innovative industries that grow fastest.

Renewable energy is surging out across the United Kingdom, blazing a trail of start-ups and jobs.

Across the Pennines, in Yorkshire, 2,250 jobs – £130 million in Real Ventures’ biomass plant, employing up to 285 people.

And in the North East, more than 1,400 jobs – TAG Energy Solutions, delivering up to 400 jobs in the Billingham turbine factory.

North of the border, one of the jewels in our renewable energy crown – £160 million of new investment and more than 420 Scottish jobs.

Across the Irish Sea, 450 jobs in Belfast Harbour thanks to DONG Energy’s Duddon Sands offshore wind farm; 1,400 jobs in Wales.

In the heart of England, 100 jobs in the East Midlands – and 50 in the West; 120 in East Anglia.

Two thousand and two hundred jobs in the South East, supported by £172m – from Vestas, the Green Home Company, and more. And at Tilbury, the first UK coal plant to convert completely to biomass, safeguarding livelihoods.

Across Britain, from the industrial heartlands to the northernmost extremities, new energy technologies are delivering jobs and growth just when we need them most.

Capitalising on our geographical, physical and human advantages; Scotland’s research and natural resources. The Solent’s marine expertise. Manufacturing in the North East. Technology development in the M4 corridor.

Renewable energy doesn’t just have the potential to bring Britain’s economy back to life – it has already started.

Our job now is to allow it to really flourish. How? By setting clear and coherent objectives. And using regulation and closely targeted support to hit them.

Targets

By the end of this decade, we must cut our carbon emissions by 34% on 1990 levels. By the end of the next decade, they must be halved.

To hit our EU renewable energy target, we must generate 30% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. That means a fourfold increase in deployment – turning our back on an inheritance that ranked us as the dunce in class, 25th out of 27 EU countries for renewables.

Growth on that kind of scale will not be easy. It will require tough decisions, clear thinking, and tightly focused support.

And everyone has a part to play.

Industry must carry on making the case for renewables. Engaging with communities – and answering its critics by delivering renewable schemes that save money and save carbon.

Government must break through the barriers that are stopping new schemes being built, overcoming the financial, planning and delivery hurdles that can hold up progress on renewables.

And together we must do a better job of communicating. That means engaging with the communities who stand to benefit, and the investors who don’t yet see the promise that renewable energy holds.

We must ensure the silent majority aren’t drowned out by the vocal minority – those opposed to renewable energy in all its forms.

That means making sure communities that host renewables benefit more directly. That’s what our proposals on business rate retention are for. And that’s why we were pleased to endorse Renewable UK’s Protocol on Community Benefits.

My challenge to you today is this: keep it up. Continue to develop and publicise new ways of rewarding those communities most affected by development.

Opportunities

Because, as the report you are publishing today shows, the opportunities are simply too great to ignore.

Globally, around half a trillion dollars has been earmarked for green stimulus spending. We will need to spend a hundred times that by 2050 to hit our climate targets.

We must be realistic. The pressure on the public finances means we cannot support everything at the level we otherwise would.

So we must ensure we send clear market signals: deploying public finance intelligently, and breaking through barriers to growth.

Our starting point is simple. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to get the most carbon and cost-effective electricity generation online…

In total, our low-carbon and energy-saving policies will reduce household enegy bills compared with a ‘do nothing policy’.

Markets

Our approach to renewable energy must encourage investment and deliver value for money for consumers.

We are doing three things to help.

First, we are using policy to create new markets that will stimulate new investment – like the Green Deal, our unprecedented energy efficiency programme. It will bring jobs, growth and opportunities right across the country.

Or the world’s first Renewable Heat Incentive. It will create a whole new market in renewable heat. Not just big industrial and commercial installations, but also homes and businesses, too.

We expect green capital investment in heat to rise by £7.5 billion by 2020, supporting 150,000 manufacturing, supply chain and installer jobs.

So the first thing we’re doing is to create new markets; the second is to make existing markets work better.

This is why we published in the summer our plans for the reform of the electricity market, which will deliver secure, low-carbon and affordable electricity.

We’ve listened to the renewables industry in drawing up the reforms. That’s why we support a contract for difference model tailored to renewables and not auctioning in the near future…

By offering certainty and clarity, we can secure the scale of investment we need. And by attracting in new investors, we will also increase competition in the UK energy market.

Benefits

Our third priority is to capture the benefits of the low-carbon revolution. That means ensuring more clean technologies are designed and manufactured here.

We have a blossoming low-carbon goods and services sector, which seems to be thriving even in tough times.

But China leads the world in solar photovoltaic panel production; Germany on energy efficient housing design.

We’re missing a trick unless we start supporting low-carbon manufacturing here in Britain – and grow the green supply chain: locking in profits and expertise, and creating the exports that will keep Britain competitive.

Yes, climate change is a manmade disaster. Yes, the UK is only 2% of global carbon emissions. But if we grasp the opportunity now our businesses and economy can be much more than 2% of the solution.

We are not going to save our economy by turning our back on renewable energy.

This has been at the heart of Liberal Democrat policy for decades and it is something the Deputy Prime Minister, the Business Secretary, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury instinctively understand.

But this goes beyond any one party. I know the Prime Minister agrees, which is why he is putting so much effort in to securing offshore wind manufacturing in the UK. And it is something I know my predecessor Ed Miliband understands.

It is this three-party consensus that makes the UK such a good place to invest.

It wasn’t always like that. It is nothing short of a national disgrace that in the 1980s the UK lost our leading wind research position to Denmark, because government refused to support the industry.

It is a mistake I am determined that this Coalition Government will not make again.

So I can today assure you that this Government has resolved that we will be the largest market in Europe for offshore wind.

We already have more installed offshore wind than anywhere else in the world and we are determined to remain at the forefront.

That’s why we set aside £200 million for the development of low-carbon technologies, including £60m for supporting major new manufacturing projects on the English coast.

We will be the best place to invest in marine power, and we will be the fastest growing country in the EU when it comes to renewable deployment.

That’s why the Green Investment Bank has been capitalised with three billion pounds, to help unlock private sector investment at scale. For the first time ever, Britain will join every other leading developed economy in having a public development bank focused on key economic goals…

Non-financial

So from the structure of the electricity market to research funding, we’re breaking through the economic barriers. But we’re also focusing on non-financial obstacles.

We’re reforming the planning system, to ensure it’s no longer a brake on sustainable development.

The energy National Policy Statements set out the national need for new renewable energy infrastructure. We have introduced a fast-track process for consents. And we will close the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decisions on major energy infrastructure to democratically elected ministers.

Over 1,000 pages of local planning policy for England are being replaced by clearer and more streamlined National Planning Policy Framework. And the Government will consult on measures for a ‘planning guarantee’.

We’re also working to improve grid connections. The connect and manage regime is now up and running. Network companies are now looking much further ahead in their planning and engaging more effectively with stakeholders. Together, this will help the network acts as a facilitator rather than an obstacle to renewable generation.

And a few months ago, we published the Renewables Roadmap – setting out for the first time how we will overcome barriers to deployment.

It’s a comprehensive action plan to accelerate the UK’s deployment and use of renewable energy.

Conclusion

In many ways, Britain can lay claim to be the home of renewable energy.

It is thought that the oldest tidal mill in the world once stood across the river Fleet, in London. The white cliffs of Dover looked over a tide mill that was recorded in the Domesday Book.

And 130 years ago, we connected the world’s first public electricity supply, in Godalming, Surrey.

It did not burn coal, or gas.

No, the power plant in question was a Siemens generator driven by 100% clean, renewable power: a watermill on the River Wey.

When Britain began its journey towards electrification, renewable energy was the future.

But we ended up choosing another path. This time, things will be different.

We will not heed the naysayers or the green economy deniers.

With over £200 billion worth of energy infrastructure needed by the end of the decade, this is our golden chance to deliver a greener future.”

Shale Gas Protest in Blackpool

It has recently been announced that a three day protest is planned to take place against the drilling for Shale Gas which has been carried out at a site outside of Blackpool. The protest, which is due to take place in September, will take place near the village of Singleton in a field next to the drilling site. The field has already been dubbed ‘Camp Frack‘.

Test drilling had been carried out at the site by the company Cuadrilla Resources in March but was later suspended after earthquakes occurred in the area in April and May. These earthquakes took place over the period in which fluids were being injected into rock to cause fracture and release the shale gas; the process known as fracking. Cuadrilla Resources stated that the earthquakes were unconnected to the drilling but doubts were expressed by some geologists including the British Geological Survey.

A meeting was held on the issue of Shale Gas  on the 19th of July in London. Caroline Lucas, Leader of the UK Green Party, was in attendance and commented that: “It is deeply irresponsible to try to extract this gas. It is a dirty, dangerous and dodgy energy supply which is still not understood well enough.” A number of issues surround the process of Shale Gas Extraction and questions have been raised on it’s true carbon footprint and the environmental impact the process itself and the disposal of waste materials has.

The UK debate is taking place at a time when the extraction process of fracking has just been banned in France. France became the first country in the world to ban commercial fracking on the 30th of June. This saw the banning bill successfully pass through both Houses of the French Parliament.  The bill passed through the House of Representatives on the 21st of July and on the 30th it was passed by the Senate following a vote of 176 to 151. The vote was divided along party lines with the majority conservative party in favour whilst the opposition voted against. However, it seems that many of the votes against were due to the feeling that the bill failed to go far enough rather than because of any objection to the ban itself. This feeling was voiced by the Socialist Party in particular who criticised the bill for leaving open a number of loopholes and for allowing methods of extraction other than fracking to be used. An earlier version of the bill proposed to ban any development of Shale Gas Extraction altogether and was supported by the Socialist Party.

As a result of the bill companies which are currently in possession of permits for drilling in French oil shale deposits have been given two months to inform the French Government what extraction technique they are using. If they are using fracking or fail to respond to the request then their permits will be automatically revoked.

The French Bill looks unlikely to be replicated in Britain with a number of MPs arguing that the potential environmental problems caused by fracking can be overcome through tight regulation and good industry practise. Shale Gas is increasingly been seen as a ‘transitional alternative’ to coal due to the (disputed) lower carbon emissions it produces. Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre for climate change research that Shale Gas could not be an alternative to coal: “It is not a substitute. My fear is that it will be combusted as well as coal. The Shale Gas industry recently announced that it expected that 35% of the increase in all gas production by 2035 would come from Shale. The former Energy Minister Michael Meacher, speaking at the London meeting, voiced his concerns over a large scale expansion in the world wide use of Shale Gas: “That is a huge shift from conventional fossil fuels to unconventional sources. But it is a big risk because the US industry is very poorly regulated and companies do not have to disclose the chemicals that they use.”

With the protests set to go ahead it seems that there is a growing awareness of the threat that Shale Gas poses not just to the British environment but also to the British Renewable Industry.

 

Shale Gas Waste Water Poisonous?

A recent report published by the U.S. Forest Service in the Journal of Environmental Quality has found that the ‘waste water’ left over from the process of shale gas extraction known as fracking can be extremely damaging, indeed lethal, to vegetation. This is on top of other possible side effects of the process; such as earthquakes and combustible water.

In 2008 an area of land less than half an acre in area had 75,000 gallons of fluid that had been used in the fracking process spead over it over a period of two days. This section of the Fernow Experimental Forest (found within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia) which the Forest Service uses for research and is also being drilled by the gas company Berry Energy was then absorbed to see if the fluid had had any ecological impact. Almost all of the ground vegetation in the area died within an extremely short period following the releases of the fluid. Within a few days trees had begun to shed leaves which were at this point brown and wilted. Of 150 affected tress 56% would eventually die. The exact chemical composition of the waste water was not known as such information is considered to be proprietary by shale gas drilling companies. The Forest Service determined that the chemical make-up of the water was mainly sodium and calcium chloride as high levels of these compounds were found to be present in the topsoil.

Several states in the U.S. allow such waste water to be disposed of on land and issue permits for this purpose indicating that such types of pollution could increase as the shale gas industry develops. The Forest Service’s research concluded that it should be a ‘high priority’ to determine ways in which vegetation could be protected during land disposal of waste water and to develop a dosing standard for waste water.

It seems that new ways in which shale gas extraction pollutes and damages the environment are being found with regularity.

Shale Gas and the European Union: Legislation Needed

There seems to be a growing consensus about Shale Gas in Europe. Following the ban of the fracking process in France and the suspension of exploratory drilling in England after increased seismic activity, Brussels is beginning to react. Increasing awareness of the problems that seem to be caused by fracking; water pollution and contamination, seismic instability, methane leakage and excessive use of ground water, is resulting in the development of political resistance to the fledgling fuel.

Jo Leinen, described by the Guardian as “one of the most influential members of the European Parliament, wants a new “energy quality directive” within Europe that would mean that fuels, such as Shale Gas,  which are deemed to adversely impact upon the environment would be regulated heavily. Leinen is the chair of the EU committee on the environment, public health and food safety and as such has the power to introduce proposals for such regulation. He feels that there would likely be support for legislative intervention because a number of MEPs are becoming increasingly worried about shale gas. He stated that “We need to be looking much more carefully at shale gas, and at the consequences of pursuing it”. Regulation could take the form of limits or financial penalties on the use or extraction of shale gas.

The International Energy Agency recently released a report on shale gas which came to the conclusion that it was not a “panacea” for the worlds changing energy needs. Shale gas if used as the worlds main energy source would result in climate change going past the 2C mark regarded as the limit of safety. Beyond this point climate change is considered to become both catastrophic and irreversible.

However, any attempts to introduce legislative limitations on shale gas can expect to meet fierce resistance from the gas industry. Shale gas has been pushed hard as a ‘green’ energy source, particularly as it is cheaper to produce than most renewable energy sources. However, the carbon footprint of shale gas production has been repeatedly questioned as the figures released by the gas industry do not take into account the problem of methane leakage. Methane is considered to be the worst greenhouse gas because it is twenty times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Some have estimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production enters into the atmosphere through leaking and venting.

Shale gas can be extremely damaging to the environment and to the renewable energy sector. Action must be taken.

Shale Gas and Scotland. Should fracking be banned?

Shale gas extraction could be coming to Scotland. The highly controversial process, known as fracking, being pushed as ‘green’ by the fossil fuel industry, could soon begin in the country if a company is given permission to begin exploratory drilling at Aith near Falkirk. This is despite the fact that the process has already been banned in France and drilling has been suspended in England.

Exploratory drilling has been carried out at site near Blackpool over a period of months but has ceased following increased seismic activity in the area. On the 27th of May Lancashire felt the rumbling of an earthquake which measured a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale. This is the second earthquake in the area since April and many experts have suggested a link with the drilling and the process of fracking – in which water and rock-dissolving chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressure to break apart shale rock and release gas. Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources (the company carrying out the drilling) commented: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts”

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

The British Geological Survery, who are carrying out the investigation released this statement on their website: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”

Whilst an increase in seismic activity seems to be one of the downsides of shale gas extraction there are other apparent dangers inherent in the process of fracking. Fracking releases methane (more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. A study published in the Climate Change letters journal extimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production escapes in to the atmosphere via leaks and venting over the lifetime of a well. It went on to conclude that shale gas had the same or even a slightly higher carbon footprint than coal which has long been considered the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel. Despite this there are many powerful lobbying groups pushing shale gas as the ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels.

Craig Bennett, policy and campiagns director at Friends of the Earth stated: “Instead of seeing shale gas as a miracle fix, the government should focus on developing the clean, safe energy alternatives at our fingertips like solar power and wind.

“Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change. Chasing after risky and hard-to-get fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands or drilling for oil in the Arctic may seriously undermine the move towards renewables as the only effective and sustainable solution to our energy challenges.”

Perhaps the most damaging environmental impact of shale gas extraction is the risk it poses to the water supply. Methane from shale gas can leak into and contaminate groundwater. In some extreme cases even rendering water flammable. Methane levels in water supplies close to shale gas extraction sites in Pennsylvania and upstate New York have been found to be up to 17 times higher than normal. 85% of drinking water wells within 1km of such sites was found to be contaminated and in some cases homeowners have been issued with gas detectors to lower the risk of explosion . One company in Pennsylvania has been banned from drilling for a year because a faulty well led to water pollution. Recent American research has found over 1000 cases of water contamination as a result of shale gas extraction.

Despite all of this a recent Commons report ruled that “There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.” Emphasis on should.

The European Climate Foundation has warned that: “Heavy dependency on gas…is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security or climate resilience…

“It will make Europe dependent on one potentially cost-volatile solution, and the successful commercialization of carbon capture and storage at an unrealistically large scale. It also reduces Europe’s energy security [Europe has far fewer shale gas reserves than the US or Asia].”

Shale gas is seemingly a high risk venture. Earthquakes, exploding water, exploding prices, and a serious risk to Scotland’s fledgling green energy sector. The Director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon commented that: “Whether the shale gas drilling and the earthquake were linked certainly needs investigated. However, we already know enough about the environmental problems associated with fracking to know that it should be banned in Scotland.

“Shale gas would be a disaster for the climate and its production could contaminate groundwater. Scotland should follow France’s example and ban it before it even gets going. Scotland should become the home of clean energy not another dirty fossil-fuel. Shale gas projects in Scotland would quickly tarnish our global claim to green credentials.”

What do you think? Should Scotland ban fracking and shale gas extraction?