Month: June 2016

Innovative projects helping us reduce our carbon emissions

Innovative projects helping us reduce our carbon emissions

One of Scotland’s oldest and most famous exports whisky will soon be teaming up with one of its newest, renewable energy at a distillery near the village of Craigellachie on the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands. The village is situated within a large forested area and lies approximately halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen.

Later this year one of the village’s whisky distilleries will access steam required for this distillation process from a state of the art combined heat and power plant (CHP). This will supply 76 GWh of steam per year to the distillery whilst at the same time generating 87 GWh of electricity, enough to power 20,000 homes. This will also save 42,000 cubic tonnes of CO2 per year. The CHP plant will be fuelled by locally sourced sustainable biomass giving a boost to the local forestry economy.

This is another positive feature of CHP plants as they bring a number of benefits to their local area, both environmental and economical.  As heat can only be transported efficiently over short distances CHP plants are normally situated within the local area as part of a decentralised energy system.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government was encouraged to maintain its CO2 emission reduction target by the Committee on Climate Change.  Prior to that in November 2015 the Committee issued new recommendations to the UK Government regarding its Firth Carbon Budget along with the advice that “we require progress in increasingly difficult areas to continue reducing emissions.”

In reality they were saying that we were doing well but also that need to do more in order to achieve our environmental goals. Heating is one area with a lot of scope for improvement with over a third of the UK’s CO2 emission coming from heat use and accounting for over 40% of our total energy consumption. In Scotland this rises to 55% of energy use and over 45% of all carbon emissions.

Whilst the challenge is great so is the opportunity and it is developments like the distillery in Craigellachie that are leading the way. However in order to achieve our targets we must do more and solutions such as electrification and carbon capture are two technologies we should be applying more.

CHP however is a more proven technology in use through Europe and North America. In Berlin and Paris similar devices are connected to a district heating system providing hot water to a number of residences. They can also be linked to industrial premises supplying low carbon heat. Examples of this can be found in Grangemouth, Cheshire, and Teesside however they tend to be the exception and not the rule with the vast percentage of our industry still receiving its energy from traditional high carbon sources.

In total approximately 7% of the UK’s electricity is supplied by CHP technology however this number is growing as the positive benefits easily outweigh the added complexity of such projects. The Craigellachie distillery shows that with the right conditions renewable CHP can be made to work.

Another first in the UK this week is pilot district heating scheme in Bristol which will store heat in the summer underground releasing it in the colder winter months. The Easton Community Centre’s renewable heating system will use air source pumps to trap the summer heat which will then be stored under a nearby park until it is needed during the winter. Excess solar energy generated from panels on the community centre’s roof will power the pumps.

The project, funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change via its Heat Network Innovation Fund cost £700,000 to install and includes plans to extend the scheme to nearby homes over the next few years.

The project, named CHOICES, is run jointly by environmental consultants Eunomia, the University of Bath, the Easton Energy Group and clean-tech developers CEPRO and ICAX. It is hoped that carbon savings of 38% and energy savings of 64% can be achieved in the project’s initial year. Then it is expected to increase to 51% carbon savings by the tenth year and 66% by the twentieth.

Speaking at the launch of the project Eunomia consultant Mark Corbin said “At Eunomia we believe it’s important to help support and develop innovative and viable business models in energy storage and local energy supply, and have been pleased to support this project as a great example of Bristol’s green innovative spirit,” he said in a statement. “It’s using the ground under people’s picnic rugs and the sun above their heads to provide them with heat in winter, helping to decarbonise the heat supply.”

It is important for us to continue to push the boundaries when it comes to new energy technologies. Although our renewable energy sources may be limitless the infrastructure isn’t so smarter ways to manage our energy will play massive part in reducing our carbon emissions and increasing our renewable energy usage.

The projects in Craigellachie and Bristol are essential in helping us achieve this and as the technology matures the costs will reduce making schemes like these more accessible to us all. The more involved the greater the carbon emission reductions which in turn will benefit us all.


Our energy storage future

Our energy storage future

Later this summer the Scottish Government will be publishing its new energy strategy for the forthcoming term and WWF Scotland have called on this to promise greater use of the country’s plentiful renewable energy sources.

The Scottish Government has pledged that all Scotland’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. Renewable energy generation in Scotland does continue to increase as shown in the latest government figures. Homes with solar PV panels generated 100% of electricity demand in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness in May. Solar hot water panels generated 100% of hot water demand in Aberdeen and Dundee, 98% in Inverness, 97% in Edinburgh and 94% in Glasgow.

Wind power accounted for 692,896 MWh of electricity imported to the grid in May, enough on average to fulfil demand for 76% of Scottish households approximately 1.8 million homes. Also on 10 of May’s 31 days wind energy generated enough electricity to support all of Scotland’s homes. In total wind generated 36% of the country’s electricity needs for the entire month of May.

Speaking about the latest figures Lang Banks director of WWF Scotland said “These figures underline the fantastic progress Scotland has made on harnessing renewables, especially to generate electricity. However, with less than 13 per cent of our total energy needs coming from renewable sources, it’s now time to widen our attention on de-carbonising our economy beyond just our power sector.

“That’s why the forthcoming review of Scotland’s energy strategy must set a target of meeting at least half of all our energy needs from renewables by 2030. In the same way Ministers helped drive forward progress in renewable electricity through targets, setting higher ambition for covering all of our energy needs would help give clarity about the transition and the greater certainty to investors.”

Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy added “The data clearly shows that there’s plenty of sunshine to meet a significant proportion of an average family’s electricity and hot water needs during some months of the year and that it isn’t just during the summer months that this contribution is felt.

“It’s clear that when it comes to generating clean power, Scotland is one country others are already watching closely. Imagine what a global leadership role Scotland could play if it now followed up its success on renewable electricity with steps to green its entire energy system.”

However in order for Scotland to realise its renewable potential and make best use of its plentiful sources more must be done in improving and implementing energy storage concepts. Such developments could harness the power or renewables and help shift our energy generation from a high carbon output to a low carbon output in turn bringing us in line with international targets.

Energy storage expert James Mashadi compiled a report on the diverse range of energy storage options with information on each.

Pumped hydro power

Pumped hydro power is generated by pumping water to an elevated height at non-peak times when electricity is cheaper and storing it behind a dam. When energy is required the water is released through the dam and is channelled down through turbines so as to generate electricity to be fed into the grid at times of peak demand when prices are higher.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES)

Like pumped hydro power, CAES is a mechanical type of energy storage technology.  The National Infrastructure Commission described CAES as being where “air is compressed and stored under pressure either in underground caverns or in above ground vessels” before being “released to drive a turbine and generate electricity.”


Flywheels are devices that spin at high speeds to generate electricity which is then released as the flywheel’s rotor is slowed.

Although pumped hydro power and CAES can offer a large amount of power it can take a while for that power to be generated and fed into the national grid. In contrast, flywheels offer access to power within a very short period of time, although the overall storage capacity is less in comparison. The devices offer the potential to help meet sudden demand for power.

Battery technologies – Lithium-Ion

Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries have been in commercial use for the past 25 years and have been common in a range of consumer products, from laptop computers to mobile phones.

Li-Ion batteries work by harnessing chemical reactions involved in the transfer of lithium ions between the cathode and anode components of the battery to first charge the battery then discharge that power.


Together with flow batteries and pumped hydro power, thermal-to-electric storage is identified as one of the most promising energy storage technologies capable of delivering “the greatest benefit for the UK.” One thermodynamic energy storage method that has already undergone extensive testing is the Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) system.

According to lobby group the Liquid Air Energy Network, the LAES system works by first turning air into liquid and then turning that liquid into gas. Intense cooling systems can turn air into liquid air which can be stored in a tank. The liquid air can then be heated to make it boil and the boiling process turns the liquid air back into gas form. The volume of the gas produced in this process is approximately 700 times that of the liquid air and this change in condition can be used to spin turbines and generate power.

James’ report goes on to examine the benefits of energy storage systems with regards the environment and economy. It states that, according to the National Infrastructure Commission’s report energy storage could deliver 15GW of capacity to the National Grid by 2030 and electrical storage alone could reach over 50GW by 2050.

The report also states that the UK could become a global hub for energy storage innovation leading to a growth in our economy of up to £25 billion by 2050. James’ full report can be read here

The importance of energy storage cannot be understated. The rise of renewable energy generation in Scotland has been very impressive however in order to utilise our resources fully, the full range of storage solutions must also be in place.

For example, in tends to be windier at night however during these periods demand for electricity tends to be lower. Therefore once the grid reaches capacity generation has to be paused and the resources from this period are wasted.

A full scale smart storage solution would allow for generation to continue, excess energy to be stored and when demand increases placed back into the grid ready for consumption.

The fact that many of the large energy providers are now starting to invest heavily in these technologies is a good indicator of where they envisage the future of energy storage. However like all fledgling industries a certain level of government support is required in order to attain the higher levels of investment required in order to advance the technologies.

The long term benefits are tangible and will benefit everyone. Working together, they can also be achievable.


Renewable Energy Investment in the UK

Renewable Energy Investment in the UK

A new report published by REN21 has claimed that last year the UK ranked 4th in the world for renewable energy investment.  The report states that the UK’s renewable investment, excluding research and development, totalled £15.4 billion in 2015, a 25% increase on 2014. Above the UK with higher renewable investments totals are China, the USA, and Japan who were ranked 1st to 3rd respectively.

Wind power dominated the UK’s investment portfolio and accounts for just under half of the overall total at £7.3 billion. This led to the country rising to 6th for new wind capacity with over 1GW added in 2015 bringing total capacity for the country to 13.6GW and 9th ranked overall.

571MW of new offshore wind capacity placed the UK second globally for new capacity in 2015 coming behind Germany which added 3,3GW. The UK however still ranks first overall for offshore wind capacity with 5.1GW installed.

The report also revealed that the UK ranked fourth in 2015 for new solar capacity adding 3.7GW. Total capacity rose to 9.1Gw and ninth place on the overall list. The sharp rise was attributed to a rush to develop due to reductions in the Feed-in Tariff coming into force in 2016.

The UK’s bio-power capacity rose by 12%, (sixth in the rankings) largely due to the partial conversion of the Drax power plant in Yorkshire from coal to biomass. An attractive Feed-in Tariff rate also helped the UK top the new biogas capacity ranking for 2015. It wasn’t all good news for bio-power though as the government this week announced proposals to end the Feed-in Tariff for larger anaerobic digestion installations.

In total 20125 was a good year for new renewable installations worldwide as 147Gw of new capacity was added, a 9% rise on 2014 and a new overall total capacity of approximately 1.85TW.

Renewables also outstripped all fossil fuels combined for new capacity in 2015 accounting for 60% of all new energy capacity installed. By the end of the year renewable installations accounted for 28.9% of worldwide generation capacity enough to supply 23.7% of global electricity. Spending on renewables reached £198 billion, a £9 billion increase on 2014.

Executive secretary of REN21 Christine Lins said: “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

One renewable source not mentioned in the report is tidal. Despite a number of attempts we have yet to make our mark on the tidal energy landscape. That could be about to change though as two Scottish engineers look to push ahead with plans to launch a new tidal energy system despite the extremely high costs associated with these types of project.

They claim that the Crown Estate which controls the seabed and foreshore are asking for a fee of £650,000 to site their equipment, reduced from £2 million, a figure they believe is still too high.

Dr David Anderson and Dr. Charlie Silverton said they launch their 7m wide Capricorn prototype tidal stream turbine into the Firth of Forth today (9th of June 2016). The twin rotored device will be towed into the estuary by boat and then lowered and tethered to float three metres off the seabed. It will go through a number of trials and will be monitored closely for any issues.

If the trials are successful a full scale commercial Capricorn device will be produced in 18 months. This will measure 38m across and will be capable of producing 1.25MW of electricity, roughly enough to power 1,000 homes.

The next step would then be to deploy up to thirty of the devices creating tide farms which would be able to produce a much higher rate of electricity than offshore wind farms.

Drs. Anderson and Silverton though their business Renewable Devices Marine Ltd have invested £250,000 into the project which has taken them two years to get to this stages.

Despite believing the project will be successful in the long term they believe that license to operate that device from the Crown Estate is too high for this type of project.

Dr Silverton said: “The Crown Estate’s licence for our project would cost as much as £2 million.

“We disputed this and they reduced the cost to about £650,000 for the lifetime of our project but that is still too high.

“The Capricorn prototype is not much different in size to my four metre yacht which I can moor in the Forth for £80 a year.

“Two tidal energy firms have closed because they could not afford to stay in business. It is no wonder the tidal energy industry has ground to a halt because the Crown Estate is demanding too much.

“On Thursday we will go ahead with the trial and see what the Crown Estate do.”

Dr Anderson said: “Access to the seabed in areas where tidal generation is viable is being made as difficult and expensive as possible for technology developers such as ourselves.

“It practically excludes small technology developers like us and does nothing to nurture a fertile environment for the growth of a new industry which, we are led to believe, is so crucial to our economy.”

The Crown Estate however dispute these figures claiming that a 1MW project costing around £8 million to build and earns annual income of more than £1m would see the developer would pay up-front costs of £7,400 for exclusive rights to the seabed site.

Once generating power, an annual rent of £2,000 for four years then £4,000 would be applied.

A Crown Estate spokesman added: “These fees help cover the costs of our staff assessing and processing the application, taking into account the developer’s approach to pre-planning, consenting, developing, operating and decommissioning.

“We regard these charges as fair and reasonable while consistent with our statutory obligation.”

As touched upon above the reductions to the UK Feed-in Tariff due to come into effect later this year has created a rush to develop new renewable projects throughout the UK. In turn this has boosted the investment figures for the UK renewable industry for 2015.

With wind and solar projects needed to be installed by September 2016 in order to claim the current tariff this spend level will likely continue to rise for 2016.

After that however the future of new renewable energy projects in the UK is unclear. Already companies are stating that souring investment for projects due to be developed after September 2016 is proving difficult with a number of perfectly good examples likely to never be developed due to a lack of funding.

It is somewhat disheartening to think of perfectly good renewable projects unable to get off the ground due to funding issues but that is what the future of the industry holds.

Also with a lack of investment comes a lack of research and development and innovative schemes such as the tidal stream device above are much less likely to ever be developed. Our country has plentiful resources to provide us all with clean safe low cost energy, it would be a shame for it to go to waste.


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