Renewables in our future energy mix

Renewables in our future energy mix

Last month the UK went through an entire 24 hour period without using electricity generated from coal for what is likely to be the first time since the first coal fired generator started production in 1882. And while this is good news for all that love clean energy we shouldn’t be popping the champagne corks just yet.

There may have been no coal involved in this generation period but only a quarter of the energy produced that day came from renewable sources with half coming from natural gas and other quarter from nuclear.

Also, despite over 58,000 people being employed in the renewables industry in Scotland, generating an annual turnover of £10.5 billion – 48% of all UK employment, and 53% of all UK turnover, in onshore wind is in Scotland – industry body Scottish Renewables warned its members were expecting their workforce to shrink by 16.9% over the next 12 months. Jenny Hogan, Scottish Renewables’ policy director, said one of the main problems was the UK Government refusing to allow onshore wind and solar energy to bid against fossil fuel companies for long-term contracts to supply electricity.

Speaking of these figures Ms Hogan said “These results show that changes to and closures of support schemes are having an impact on our members and on the numbers of employees within their businesses. Onshore wind and solar are the two cheapest forms of electricity, but ministers are refusing to allow them to access long-term contracts for power, which will result in a marked slowdown in investment and a decrease in employment.”

If renewables are going to play a larger role in Scotland’s generation mix then we need more storage. In the longer term batteries may play a role, but for now the proven technology is pumped hydro. However, the industry argues that a lack of certainty around long-term revenue is holding back growth.

SSE senior policy manager, Kate Gillingham, says her company’s planned new facility at Coire Glas, near Loch Lochy in Scotland, is “a major infrastructure investment, with large upfront capital costs and significant lead times. However, the current market conditions do not provide sufficient revenue certainty to enable investment decisions on a new build project.”

This view is supported by ScottishPower whose head of UK hydro at Scottish Power Ross Galbraith has said there needs to be “some way of unlocking investment” to help fund projects like the upgrade of the Cruachan hydro pump scheme.

“We’re really keen work on and look at how we can support and mitigate the risks of large-scale investment associated with pump storage. Depending on the option we choose, Cruachan 2 will cost somewhere between £300 million and £500 million. The lead-time for construction is significant, so we need to find a framework to mitigate the risk of that investment.”

In better news for Scottish Renewables the town of Glenrothes plans to develop a local district heating scheme using low carbon heat from the RWE Markinch biomass plant to heat local homes, businesses and public sector premises. Following on from a public consultation plans have now been submitted to Fife Council regarding the required infrastructure.  Like all district heating schemes implementation will mean a significant reduction in energy bills and carbon emissions.

Mid Fife & Glenrothes MSP, Jenny Gilruth said: ‘‘These exciting plans could make a big difference to lives here in Mid Fife & Glenrothes. As well as offering low-cost low-carbon heating, ‘Glenrothes Heat’ could help alleviate fuel poverty and support Scotland’s climate change targets by reducing local carbon emissions.

“I’d encourage everyone to get along to the consultation event to make sure their views are heard. This is a hugely exciting proposal and I’d be delighted if more constituents voiced their support for the project.”

A potential £8.5million funding support from the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Programme Fund has been secured in principle, and a further £7million from RWE Markinch Ltd could make the project a reality as early as January 2019.

And this seems to be the way with renewables in Scotland at the moment. One day we hear worrying news, the next something positive. However generation levels to continue to increase and we can expect that to continue over the next year or two as the final turbines approved prior to the subsidy cuts are installed and begin exporting to the grid.

This will level off though and as the early turbines enter their decommissioning period the amount of renewable energy generated will start to fall. So if the government is not going to commit to new turbines – and it is unlikely they will – the level of alternative solutions must increase dramatically.

The district heating systems are important but at their current level of implementation are not enough to counter the future loss of wind generation. In addition the likelihood of eventually having 100% of properties on district heating systems is remote at best and therefore we should not be relying on them entirely.

Other technologies, like tidal, are in their infancy but are making great strides to becoming fully commercial operations. In addition a fully maintained network storage system – as mentioned above – would provide a smart solution for lost renewable energy currently being generated.

With a General Election on the horizon here in the UK we hope that any prospective government takes this issue seriously and enforces strong renewable policies to ensure the continued growth of our low carbon energy output and continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

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