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Building blocks of renewable energy

Building blocks of renewable energy
With the return of All-Energy I am delighted that Aberdeen City and Shire has another fantastic opportunity to shine in this fast-growing world of renewable energy.

With the return of All-Energy I am delighted that Aberdeen City and Shire has another fantastic opportunity to shine in this fast-growing world of renewable energy.

The city-region has much to offer, with an impressive track record of success in the international oil&gas industry; the trick is to tap this resource and assure the next future. Now, across the globe, acute awareness of the impacts of global warming and climate change are driving a new era of low-carbon alternative energy solutions. The European Union considers the threat of climate change to be “one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet”.

In Scotland, we are seeing growing activity and interest in the development of renewable energy projects at domestic, community and industry level. Recent events and fuel shortages have also shown us the importance of security of supply and the need to explore fully alternative energy solutions.

Having already achieved the 2010 target of 18%, Scotland is now working towards the challenging target of satisfying 50% of its electricity needs via renewables by 2020. On offer to enable us to achieve that target is a range of solutions, including wind, wave and tide, solar and biomass.

A new generation of pioneering projects is steadily emerging. For example, the industry watched with great interest last year as Talisman established the second of its ground-breaking RePower five-megawatt turbines in the Moray Firth Beatrice field – moving the project to its operational phase and flagging to the rest of the world a possible new industry for large deepwater offshore windfarms. Energy analyst Douglas Westwood predicts that the world offshore wind market will be worth $16billion by 2012 and that the UK share will be the largest, at about $5billion.

All-Energy is now the UK’s biggest renewables show and reflects the growth of its renewables industry in recent years. Last year’s show saw about 4,000 UK and international visitors to Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, plus more than 350 exhibitors – and there is no reason to believe that 2008 will not go on to break this record.

Visitors are arriving from the four corners of the Earth to hear about the challenges to be faced and to develop business and collaborations across a range of renewable energy technologies.

The success of this show, the ambitions of the industry, recent announcements and the increased uptake of renewable energy projects mean that we now have key building blocks which will lead Scotland to an exciting renewable energy future.

Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) is a public-private partnership helping to lead that charge for Scotland with some 100 member companies/organisations including universities, research establishments and the business and industry community – all of them active in renewables.

AREG, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council are joining forces on the impressive Aberdeen City and Shire Pavilion, which will showcase sustainable energy and engineering technologies, green energy applications and leading ICT solutions. During the show, AREG will be updating on progress with key projects, including the Energy Futures Centre building concept and the latest developments in the Aberdeen Offshore Windfarm proposal.

Aberdeen City and Shire has already developed many skills and capabilities in the exploitation of North Sea oil&gas. This has included working in challenging North Sea conditions and the development of cutting-edge technology. Building on these many strengths, and now with trade links across the globe, the area is now looking at new opportunities within the fast-growing renewables sector across a range of applications.

The Energy Futures Centre, which is a flagship project for Aberdeen and Scotland, is being led by AREG with support from a number of organisations, and development funding for the business case is provided by Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Enterprise. A highly visible and prominent site has been earmarked on the city’s beachfront to showcase this proposed 21st-century Scottish landmark

The Energy Futures Centre is intended to provide a focus for renewable energy policy, research and development, and play a role on a national and international stage. The potential exists for it to also become a world-class visitor attraction and not just a business facility.

Initial plans point to a structure with about 10,000sq m of mixed-use space. This will include commercial, conference, a specialist careers zone, a science centre attraction and a public realm space.

A business case is currently being prepared as to how best take the development forward.

The EFC is surely a very exciting prospect for Aberdeen as it move towards a future that will embrace innovative low-carbon energy solutions. The centre could play a vital role in helping the city to become a true multi-energy capital and to face the challenges and opportunities the future will bring.

As for the planned Aberdeen Offshore Windfarm, environmental and geophysical studies have been undertaken on the proposed site. Whatever its final form, the lay-out must take account of a wide range of factors, which are currently under study by the joint venture.

These include the ecology of Aberdeen Bay and the needs of other users of the area, such as shipping and helicopter operators. A recent development is the possibility of creating a wind turbine test centre as part of the project and to provide an important facility for manufacturers to deploy power heads and associated equipment for extended trials.

Also, DNV is conducting a viability study on the concept of using the offshore windfarm as a test centre for offshore wind technology.

After the disappointment of the UK Government choosing to locate its Energy Technology Institute in Loughborough, the Scottish Government has moved swiftly to reinforce Scotland’s own claims to become a centre for green energy research and development.

Announcing the creation of the Scottish European Green Energy Centre – and the fact it will be based in Aberdeen – First Minister Alex Salmond said: “I want to make Aberdeen – and Scotland – the focus for cutting-edge renewables research.”

This is, of course, very welcome news at AREG and is a perfect match with our aspirations to grow renewable energy projects and capability in our region. The purpose of the new centre will be to develop networks and partnerships with green energy research bodies in like-minded countries, so promoting the development of these technologies.

The first minister confirmed he has secured some support from Brussels for the new centre, which he hopes will become pre-eminent in Europe within five years and a formal agency of the European Union. AREG, of course, hopes the centre will find a home in our planned new Energy Futures Centre.

The opportunity for the oil&gas industry to diversify into marine renewables is something that AREG actively promotes. Last September, AREG exhibited at Offshore Europe 07 – welcoming many visitors and briefing the petroleum sector on key projects and opportunities for diversification. First Minister Alex Salmond also visited the stand to hear about the ambitions of the group. Development of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney and continued Scottish Government support for innovative wave and tidal devices help Scotland as it moves to become a new “powerhouse” of marine energy.

Successful north-east companies that have moved into marine renewables include Ross Deeptech and Rotech. For the latter, 2008 has been an exceptional year already with the announcement of a 300MW project with a major Korean energy company.

AREG has also been instrumental in kick-starting biomass projects in the region. A total of £8million has been committed on projects in the past two years, including the conversion of local schools to run on wood fuel and the building of Scotland’s first commercial wood pellet plant. We are also aware of a further £15million of biomass projects in the pipeline. But even they will only scratch the surface of the region’s potential.

Of course, the development of renewable energy is not just about larger-scale schemes; we also need to see increasing numbers of community and household projects. Renewables Connection in Aberdeen offers householders, small businesses and public-sector organisations free expert advice and information on the renewable technologies that could meet their home-energy needs. The initiative has had a successful first year, exceeding its target of 50 installations.

We need to see more projects like the biomass boiler at Aboyne Academy, which has cut the school’s greenhouse gas emissions by 600 tonnes a year and significantly reduced energy costs. The fuel source for the boiler is wood chips, chosen because of the school’s proximity to two sawmills. This, in turn, has provided a welcome boost to the local economy.

Renewables represent a worldwide opportunity and the Scottish north-east has a proven track record in developing trade links across the world.

With that in mind, we at AREG were delighted to announce the arrival in April of Sarah Hillyear, who now works as an international trade executive in a dual role with Aberdeen City Council. Sarah, formerly of the Scotttish Enterprise Energy Team, will help north-east Scottish companies win business in the global renewable energy market.

The international strategy being developed by AREG will match the capabilities of Aberdeen City and Shire companies against country “hot spots” in the renewable sector and a programme will be created to help promote the region’s capabilities in these countries and support companies which wish to enter these markets.

Ongoing development of the renewables industry will be heavily dependent on getting the right people for the job. During the 2008 All-Energy there will be a session, “Skills – getting the right people: the great debate”, featuring Nicol Stephen MSP and a panel of experts. Professor Paul Mitchell, of Aberdeen University, who is also a member of the AREG board, will be taking part in the session. He believes there are some great opportunities for people to join the renewables industry.

So what of the future? Well, we live in very busy, but also very challenging, times for the renewables industry as it moves forward creating long-term sustainable solutions for a modern world.

I believe that we really now have in place the building blocks to make renewables take a leap within the UK energy mix from the sidelines to the mainstream, and we intend that AREG plays its part to the full in that process. It really is a case of watch this space.

To learn more about the work of AREG and its plans for the future, visit the Aberdeen Pavilion at All-Energy 08, or see www.aberdeenrenewables.com

Iain Todd is AREG’s “Renewable Energy Champion”

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