Scotland’s Energy Security

Scotland’s Energy Security

A new report from the Institution of Engineers in Scotland (IESIS) has claimed that a massive gap in the electricity system caused by the closure of coal-fired power stations and growth of unpredictable renewable generation has created the real prospect of complete power failure which could lead to sustained black-outs and power outages.

They go on to say that longer periods with no power could lead to “deaths, severe societal and industrial disruption, civil disturbance and loss of production”.

The organisation always warns that the loss of carbon heavy power generating stations such as Longannet – which closed two years ago – means that having to restore electricity in a “black start” situation – following a complete loss of power – would take several days.

Although the threat of civil disturbance does seem like a stretch of the imagination the report points to power losses of several days in other countries leading to this type of situation and warns “A lengthy delay would have severe negative consequences – the supply of food, water, heat, money, petrol would be compromised; there would be limited communications. The situation would be nightmarish.”

The Institute concludes its report by calling on the Scottish and UK Governments to radically change how the electricity system is governed, with the creation of a new national energy authority with specific responsibility for safeguarding its long-term sustainability and avoiding blackouts.

With Scottish Power becoming the first major energy provider to switch to 100% green energy production by selling its remaining fossil fuel production plants earlier this year and the scheduled closure of nuclear power plant Hunterston B in 2023 it is feared that the increased reliance on renewable energy generation could lead to intermittent losses.

This could be exasperated with an increase on energy demand due to a sharp increase in electric vehicles and rises in domestic heat coming from electricity as opposed to gas.

Iain MacLeod, of the IESIS, said: “The electricity system was designed with generation coming mainly from coal and nuclear energy. However, as we change generation sources to include intermittent renewables, we must review how the system works with these new inputs. The risks involved when introducing new sources of generation need to be controlled. Intermittent renewable energy sources do not supply the same level of functionality as power stations to meet demand at all times and avoid operational faults. Intermittency issues … relevant to wind and solar energy have not been adequately explored.”

The Institute’s report, Engineering for Energy: A Proposal for Governance of the Energy System, which it plans to take to the Scottish and UK governments argues that Longannet was closed “well before assessments of the impact of its closure had been completed” and adds that transmission is now being upgraded “before detailed decisions about the siting of generation facilities have been made.”

In addition, integrating new energy sources to the current network could lead to an increase in cost to the consumer with the report adding “The extra generation and storage needed to safeguard security of supply, the facilities required to ensure it is stable, extra transmission facilities, and energy losses over power lines from remote locations will all contribute to rising costs.”

SP Energy Networks, which owns and maintains the transmission network in central and southern Scotland, say: “The resilience of the system, and the ability to deliver an efficient and timely Black Start restoration, minimising the social and economic aspects of such an event, continue to be areas of particular focus.”

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative energy spokesman said: “No-one disputes the need for Scotland, and everywhere else, to move towards cleaner generation of energy. But this has to be done in a sustainable way which ensures there are no blackouts and enough power to meet the needs of the country”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While electricity policy is reserved to the UK Government, we are working closely with National Grid and the Scottish network companies to ensure that Scotland has a secure and stable supply of electricity.  Renewable generation now plays substantial role in meeting electricity demand across Scotland and reducing the carbon intensity of the electricity that we generate. Our energy strategy highlights the need to plan and deliver a secure, flexible and resilient electricity system.”

Prior to the closure of the coal and gas plants in Scotland we were a net exporter of energy to the rest of the UK and beyond. However, this has since changed and we need the security of a potential 1.6GW or power which can be imported from England at any given time. Due to the nature of our renewable energy production this can fluctuate on a daily or even an hourly basis. A windy morning for example could lead to an excess of energy but a calm afternoon could mean having to import. This is happening on a more regular basis over the past year.

We believe that a solution to this issue already exists and can implemented relatively quickly. Intermittent energy production requires industrial scale storage to ensure that it can meet the demand required throughout the daily peaks and troughs. And while battery storage can certainly help with this the amount required to be able to handle the highest demand scenarios would mean acres and acres of battery storage units.

Pump storage hydro however can meet this gap and give us the energy security that the Institute’s report seeks. At ILI Energy we are currently planning on developing three individual plants in different locations which will have the potential to store and generate 1.6GW of power. In addition, they will use excess renewable energy – when production is in surplus – to flow the water back to the top pond making it fully renewable.

We are currently at the planning stage with these three projects with two in consultation and one being submitted for planning approval earlier this month. For information on this project and details on the planning submission please go to the project website http://www.redjohnpsh.co.uk/

 

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