9 things you should know...

The skyline of Ardrossan,  North Ayrshire, is dominated by an enormous wind farm. However, the general climate of acceptance is a positive one. (Photo: Vincent van Zeijst)
The skyline of Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, is dominated by an enormous wind farm. However, the general climate of acceptance is a positive one. (Photo: Vincent van Zeijst)

… about the Scottish clean energy transition. The German Energiewende is the main topic of discussion. Scotland’s goals, however, are no less ambitious.

The German Energiewende has been covered ­widely in the international press, with its pros and cons hotly debated (particularly in the ­English-speaking press). Perhaps less known is that Scotland is also undergoing a remarkable energy transition of its own, with growth of renewable energy far in excess of overall UK targets. Scotland has ­also ­decided – unlike the rest of the UK – not to build new nuclear power stations. Here are 9 key points you should know about this process.

1. In 2011, the Scottish Government established a target of delivering 100 % of gross electricity consumption and 11 % of heat consumption from renewables by 2020. In 2013, over 44 % of gross consumption in ­Scotland was from renewable sources, equivalent to around 32 % of UK renewable electricity generation.

2. In 2014, Scotland reached what was defined as a “historic moment” by Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables: renewable production overtook nuclear, coal and gas for the first time. In first half of 2014 renewables generated 32 % more electricity than any other single source of power.

3. The transition to Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – the new mechanism to support clean energy generation projects replacing the Renewables Obligation – is tricky, but appears so far to have worked in favour of Scottish wind power. Nine out of 17 winning projects announced in February are in Scotland. So 62 % of UK offshore wind and 72 % of onshore wind planned capacity that was awarded CfDs is in ­Scotland. The largest onshore wind farm to win a CfD was Infinergy’s Dorenell which secured a contract for its 177 MW project.

4. Offshore wind plans are particularly crucial to meet the 100 % renewables target, as Scotland boasts 25 % of Europe‘s offshore wind resources. ­According to Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland (see full interview below), it is therefore “rather disappointing” that only one project obtained a CfD in February: Mainstream Renewable Power‘s Neart na Gaoithe. There are several other well-advanced projects waiting for the next auction.

5. The debate on wind power in Scotland is somewhat less controversial compared to the rest of the UK. Political support is also much higher: the ruling Scottish National Party is firmly in favour of renew­able energy, and there are fewer politicians turning wind power into a political issue here.

6. There are of course several campaigns against specific wind power projects. Hugely influential bird protection charity RSPB has mounted a legal challenge which may have an impact on Mainstream ­Renewable Power’s Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm, as well as planned offshore wind projects Inch Cape, Seagreen Alpha, and Seagreen Bravo. An RSPB Scotland spokesperson told SUN & WIND ENERGY that the organisation “continues to support the ­development of carefully sited and designed renew­ables, including offshore wind”.  “However, ­individual developments must be sited to avoid significant harm,” she added. A spokesperson from Mainstream Renewable Power has stated the company is moving forward with its plan at Neart na ­Gaoithe. Other campaigns include the a legal ­challenge by the John Muir Trust, a wildlife conservation group, against a development a 67 turbine, 240 MW development by SSE in Stronelairg, arguing it will have a negative impact on wild land.

7. For years Scotland has been a net exporter of electricity to the rest of the UK as well as an exporter of oil and gas from the North Sea. The question is now whether this position can be maintained and expanded with an almost entirely renewable electricity ­system. This has emerged as a big issue over the past few weeks, particularly because of the planned closure of a large coal fired power station (Longannet near Fife). Not everybody thinks this is going to be a problem. “During infrequent times of high demand and low renewables production, electricity will need to be imported from the rest of Great Britain, but ongoing and planned grid upgrades will be more than enough to accommodate this,” WWF Scotland said in a recent report.

8. In order to meet its targets, Scotland needs to do far more to boost energy efficiency and pumped storage as well as uptake of electric vehicles. WWF is asking for the establishment of an energy efficiency feed-in tariff. The Scottish Government has given its backing to a proposed new pumped storage scheme to be built by SSE Renewables.

9. Scotland is also pinning considerable hopes on wave and tidal energy. The government states ­Scotland has an estimated 25 % of Europe’s tidal potential and 10 % of its wave potential. The Crown ­Estate, which owns the sea bed, has awarded leases for just over 1.6 GW of marine projects in the ­Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters. However, some companies in this sector have faced financial difficulties.

Germana Canzi

Below you can read an interview with  Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth ­Scotland.


“Community renewables are high on the agenda”

SUN & WIND ENERGY talked to Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, amongst others about Scotland’s energy targets and opportunities compared to the rest of the UK.

S&WE: Is it reasonable to compare Scottish targets with the Energiewende?
Richard Dixon: Yes. We have around 34 % of our electricity coming from renewables so we are doing well on the way towards that. There is lots of ­potential and a lot of interesting things are happening. But just in the last few months it got a bit ­harder. Recently two of our wave power companies have struggled. This is one of the exciting technologies in ­Scotland because it is one of the domestic technologies rather than something we would be buying form somewhere else. But it is looking a bit troubled. The government has set up a new agency and last week announced a package to support the industry. There is a rescue effort going on but it is not an easy development phase.

S&WE: How is offshore wind doing?
Dixon: We had the CfDs announced recently, and as expected only one farm won one. That’s the UK ­government not putting enough money into offshore wind, which is frustrating because there are developers ready to go ahead. And the one that did get a CfD, Neart na Gaoithe, is subject to a challenge by RSPB in relation to the EU Birds Directive. We need to see what happens with this. We also need to see what gets funded in the next round of CfDs in ­autumn.

Richard Dixon became Director of Friends of the Earth ­Scotland in January 2013. He was Head of Policy with WWF Scotland from 2002 to July 2005, before he was instated as Director of WWF Scotland. He helped set up Transform Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition.

S&WE: What does the renewable energy industry need to know to be successful in Scotland?
Dixon: Scotland has a good technical history. It has a much better political climate for renewables than the rest of the UK, but it doesn’t control all the ­money. So when the UK government decides that the CfDs aren’t going to give very much for offshore wind than that’s a problem for Scotland. So there is lots of potential but there are some political difficulties. Another key dimension is that community renewables are high on the agenda, with a target and a good size grant scheme to make it happen and we are doing well towards that target. That’s a big part of why renewables are more accepted in Scotland. Big community-scale projects are happening, and they allow people to see the local benefit rather than just large companies producing big schemes near them. Anyone working in this industry needs to be aware of that dimension.

S&WE: How does the debate on wind in Scotland compare to the rest of the UK?
Dixon: The general climate is much more accepting that wind farms are a good thing, and that we need them, but of course they need to be in the right ­places. So yes, there is a difference politically and also philosophically. There are wind farms that have 2 objections and 30 people saying they are a good idea, so that’s quite different from many places in England and Wales. And then there are others that are perhaps on the edge of a national park which have thousands of people saying they don’t want them. So there are still some which are very controversial and some which are completely ­uncontroversial.

S&WE: Has this changed in the run up to the May UK election?
Dixon: We had an energy debate last week which concentrated mostly on the future of Longannet [old coal power station which is due to close] which is a big symbolic thing. Wind power is not a major ­feature of the debate. There was some talk of over-­reliance on wind, but it wasn’t a major feature of the debate. Energy is a strong election issue, and people are talking about it; but only a minority of voices are saying there is a problem with wind farms. There is more of a debate on how to keep the lights on and about where the base-load will come from. People are saying that we are going to have wind farms but we can’t just have wind farms, which is different from saying that we can’t have these things at all.

S&WE: What other big issues are coming up?
Dixon: We’ve had most political parties saying they want to save the North Sea oil industry. Of course oil price is low and investment is disappearing from ­Aberdeen so they feel they have to say something. Apart from the Green Party no one has come up with a sensible plan on what is a transition from oil and gas jobs into renewable energy jobs – so that will start to emerge as well. Maybe during the UK elections and certainly in the run up to the Scottish elections [in May 2016] we’ll have a debate on the fact that yes, we’ll have oil in the years to come, but this is an industry which is in decline. And skills are transferable. So how do we have a sensible transition plan? This is something we need to think about, and we are talking to unions about how to transition from an oil economy into a fully-fledged renewables economy.

The interview was conducted by Germana Canzi.

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