Scotland’s Growing Pains On The Road to 100% Renewable Energy By 2020

Positive Solutions visited Scotland recently and got a glimpse of how they are leading the world into a clean energy future.

Rainbow behind the wind turbine - Scotland Photo Courtesy: Bownose - Flicker
Rainbow behind the wind turbine – Scotland
Photo Courtesy: Bownose – Flicker

 Scotland’s journey with renewable energy has ebbed and flowed according to political and commercial pressures. However, about a decade ago, the Scottish government created a policy called the Renewables Obligation, Scotland (ROS), and it is the Scottish Government’s main means of increasing renewable electricity generation in Scotland. It requires utilities to use a mandated percentage of renewables in its mix of energy sources.

Via this policy and technological advances, Scotland has now set a benchmark for the rest of the world and at the time of this writing, generates 80 – 100% of its energy with clean renewable energy with no sign of stopping there. The goals set were at 50% and have now been moved to 100% demand renewables by 2020.

Scotland’s toolbox of renewables includes primarily; wind, hydro, solar, and various marine energy technologies that take advantage of Scotland’s unique geo-location, geology, and topography utilizing the kinetic power of waves, tides and on and off shore winds. They are also exploring geothermal, biofuels, and a have a focused energy efficiency campaign designed to reduce consumption. Their plan to move towards a low-carbon economy is an important part of an ongoing economic strategy that has set them on the high road to prosperity.

Wind power, especially on-shore is very evident almost everywhere you go in Scotland.

We saw several wind arrays while riding a train from Edinburgh to Inverness. One installation was particularly memorable, with 10 MW turbines majestically sweeping between two mountains. The white turbines against the dark mountains as a backdrop were stunning.

However, like all good things, there really is a right time and place. Many people in Scotland are starting to fight this spread of wind farms that are growing more and more intrusive into the landscape and their lives.

In 2015, the Scottish government finally vetoed a proposed wind farm at Allt Duine, near Kincraig. According to conservationists, the 10 MW turbines standing 125 meters high would have been visible over a broad area of the Cairngorms National Park.

There was also an uproar about another proposed installation near Loch Ness. This ongoing situation has been described as a: “battle that pitches environmentalists against conservationists and giant energy companies against aristocratic landowners and clan chiefs”

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Robin Rigg Wind Farm, Scotland’s first offshore wind farm. Photo Courtesy of: Robin Rigg Wind Farm – Wikipedia

The businesses dependent on tourist trade are especially vocal and fighting against the encroachment of these modern day goliaths intruding on famous landmarks like Stirling Castle.

This photo shows Stirling Castle on the hill on the right and a large wind farm on a mountain side on the left. Photo Courtesy of : Flickr -ruth1066

In answer to these pitched legal battles, the Scottish government has announced a careful and considered approach to new installations:

“We support onshore wind farms in the right locations. Our role is to help identify the right locations and to provide advice on each application. We strongly encourage a planned approach to wind farm development. As a result, we have published guidance on Spatial Planning for onshore wind turbines – natural heritage considerations. “

Projects go through a rigorous government process in order to win approval that includes environmental impact studies and prior approval from local councils and the Scottish Parliament. In most cases, the projects positively impact the nearby population in the form of reduced power costs, and employment from building and equipment maintenance jobs.

One of the technical areas where Scotland excels is using tidal power to harness the energy from tidal currents on the Scottish coast. The best thing about tidal energy is the fact that it is predictable and therefore a constant. The following video from The European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) does a wonderful job of explaining the concepts:

Marine engineers take advantage of narrow channels that create more force like the proposed Pentland Firth Tidal Power Plant which will capture energy from the tides rolling in and out of a strait between the Orkney Islands from Caithness in the north of Scotland.

The technology is improving all the time, engineers do repeated tests to check the impact on the surrounding marine environment. The Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, where a tidal turbine operates, is also home to seals, and porpoises. The turbine there shuts off when a marine animal approaches creating a safe passage.

Solar is another important component of Scotland’s renewable mix as well. On our return trip from Inverness to Edinburgh, we counted at least 1 in every 5 houses with rooftop solar panels. Other sources claim approximately 40,000 households now boasting a solar array.  Read more here. Many of these solar powered homes were made possible by a grant program for homeowners, that was offered by the Scottish government, to install solar panels that paid for 30% of the installation for primary residences.  That particular program was discontinued in 2010.

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Solar panels on roof as seen from train – Inverness – Edinburgh

Though the road to renewables may be rocky at times, Scotland is making steady progress and setting the mark for the rest of the world.

For more information about Scotland’s ambitious plans for its energy future please see: Energy In Scotland 2015

 

 

 

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