Scotland’s energy sector catches tailwinds

Scotland is Europe’s windiest country, holding over 25% of the European wind capacity. Nevertheless, until 2001 the Scottish government didn’t put much effort in exploiting its biggest natural resource. Grid structure and planning process still cause problems in the Scottish on-shore wind sector. Nevertheless, Scotland is on its way to energy self-sufficiency with supplies only from renewable sources.

Text and pictures by Lisa Guggenmos

Change of course towards renewable energy since the 1980s

“On-shore wind is the first fully working renewable energy sector in Scotland, many companies want to invest in it” explains Rosie Vetter, Policy Manager of Scottish Renewables .
Although the number of on-shore wind farms increases constantly, the country still strongly depends on energy supplies from nuclear power and gas.

Other than countries like Germany and Denmark, where developers began working on sufficient wind turbines ,able to cover the energy needs of thousands of people, more than 30 years ago, the Scottish government has taken another course.
Nuclear energy and gas still are the main energy sources for electricity, heat and transport. “We clearly missed the boat back in the 80s when it came to developing renewable energy“, explains Rosie Vetter.

Total installed EU wind capacity, including on-shore and off-shore wind: Compared to Germany, the UK has a relatively low capacity level. Within the UK, Scotland performs best. Scotland’s total installed capacity in March 2010 was 1.921 MW. (Data from: European Wind Energy Association)

After the implementation of new EU targets for a greener environment in 2001, Scotland had to change its course towards more renewable energy.  The worldwide danger of fuel shortages keeps boosting the new efforts.
“We need to be less dependent on energy supplies from other countries and fossil fuels. We have to exploit renewable sources as much as possible”, explains Rosie Vetter, Scottish Renewables.

Facts about renewable energy in Scotland

  • 170 renewable sites currently exist in Scotland, among them 56 on- and off-shore wind farms.
  • The installed capacity of electricity produced by wind energy was 10% in March 2010.
  • One average size on-shore wind turbine (around 80m height) has a capacity of 2,5 MW.
  • One 2,5 MW wind turbine can supply energy for 1.500 households.
  • The costs of an average on-shore wind turbine are around 4 million €, depending on size, material and the location.

Grid structure needs upgrades

The old grid system, constructed during the 1940’s, now causes big problems in Scotland. The low capacity and little expanse of the grid network add up to large constrictions for the transportation of electricity produced from renewable sources.
“Our grid system is too old to carry the amount of electricity we need to carry for covering today’s demands”, explains Rosie Vetter, Scottish Renewables.

In 2009, the Scottish government guaranteed a better grid infrastructure for the country. Henceforth, all electricity produced by green energy sources has to get access to the grid.
In the Renewables Action Plan from June 2009, the government marked its plans for increasing the Scottish grid capacity.

A grid upgrade of the Beauly-Denny transmission line had been decided. This 160 miles long line runs through the whole country from south to north and is the main electricity streaming line in the Scottish grid system.

Streamlining the planning process

For boosting Scotland’s wind sector, fast and efficient planning and implementation structures are important.  It takes many planning and bureaucratic efforts to build an on-shore wind farm.
For wind farms with capacities over 50 MW the Scottish government decides about the planning permission. If the wind farm will have a capacity lower than 50 MW, the local authorities decide.

The company applying for the farm has to gather data about the possible impacts of the planned wind farm on environment, archeology, rocks, birds, transportation, socio-economic benefits and disadvantages for the area, grid.

An average on-shore wind turbine (around 70m height) used for the large-scale Scottish wind farms has a capacity of between 1.6 MW and 3 MW. Wind turbines above 3 MW capacity are normally constructed for off-shore wind farms. Small turbines (15 kW capacity) are constructed for residential use. (Picture Source:Industrial Maintainance Service)

In visual assessments, the developers have to show the planned appearance of the wind farm to the local or national authorities. The authorities in charge assess those data and gather information coming from environmental organizations or the people living in those particular areas before making a decision.
The planning process therefore is very time consuming and has to be streamlined. “The planning system has recently been very slow. But we are hoping that this will get better“, tells Rosie Vetter.

The Scottish Government thinks big

1. 2020 targets

The new energy policy of the Scottish government, represented by the Scottish Climate Change Act (2009), aims to migrate Scotland away from its dependence on nuclear energy.
By 2020, 20% of the energy demands shall be covered by renewable energy, primarily by wind and hydro power.
The overall electricity consumption in Scotland will then be supplied by 35% from renewable energy sources.

2. Renewable Energy Certificate

The Renewable Energy Certificate, called ROC, imposes a rule on energy producing companies. A certain level of their energy amount must be produced by renewable energy sources.
“If the companies do not meet these targets, they are punished. This is a reversed subsidy system, which helps the wind industry” explains Alasdair McPherson.
“Companies that have gone under the amount have to pay into a fund, which then goes back out to the companies who have produced more renewable energy”, states Christine McKay, Senior Policy Adviser of the Renewable Strategy and Onshore Renewables Team of the Scottish Government.

All ROCs are issued by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), Great Britain’s governmental regulator for electricity and gas markets. For more information on the ROC: visit the Ofgem Website.

EU engagement in renewable energy: 2001 targets

In 2002 the EU implemented new green energy targets for 2020, which have since then been up to the member states to realize on a national level. In 2007, the European Commission published a Communication Document entitled: “Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius – The way ahead for 2020 and beyond”.
This document describes the overall EU policy strategies towards Climate Change.  The European Commission can initiate infringement proceedings if member states fail to introduce appropriate measures.

Community engagement – consulting the general public for a greener Scotland

The trend in on-shore wind projects goes towards more community engagement. In the so-called “Community ownership model”, companies share the benefits of commercial wind development sights with the local communities.
The developers have arrangements with Energy4All, a renewable energy cooperative located in the UK. This cooperative tries to find ways of engaging the general public in renewable energy projects.

It allows wind developers to sell parts of their projects to the public. Private people can buy shares in turbines located in their own living area and get financial returns for the electricity produced.
“Community owned turbines give the people something to look at and make them say ‘That is our wind turbine’”, states Alasdair McPherson from Falck Renewables, Scotland’s largest on-shore wind developer.

Falck Renewables is a precursor in cooperative models among Scottish wind developers. Alasdair Mc Pherson is the project manager of a planned wind farm on Nigg Hill.

The Nigg Hill wind farm is planned as a small scheme wind farm, 30 miles north of Inverness closed to the Highlands. The planning phase began in 2005.  Five wind turbines with an overall capacity of 10 MW shall supply energy for around 6.000 households. Nigg Hill’s main draw-back is its visibility from big distances.

Most of the other wind sites located in the Scottish Highlands are not as intervening to the landscape as Nigg Hill would be. “But the Community ownership model brings us a lot of positive PR. I hope that the positives will weigh out the negatives”, states Alasdair McPherson.

The Millenium wind farm – A Showcase

Falck Renewables runs the Millenium wind farm in the Highlands. It is one of Falck’s five Scottish wind farms with an overall capacity of 340 MW. Having 20 turbines, the Millennium wind farm is one of the biggest ones in the highlands.

Each turbine has 70 meters height from the ground level to the top. The blades are 45 meters long. The turbines produce 2,5 MW energy each, which is enough to supply 1.500 households wit energy.

The whole wind farm supplies 25.000 to 30.000 households with electricity, depending on the wind strength. The cost of building this wind farms have been close to 1 Million Euros.

The wind farm will be extended by another four wind turbines.

For more information about small-scale and residential use of wind power in Scotland read : “Blowing the electricity meter backwards

About lisaguggenmos