I really wanted to write about shale gas economics and practicalities this month because there’s a lot that needs saying. However, I’m really going to have to sort this bloke Donald Trump out because he seems to be under the strange delusion that a golf course is more important than Scotland’s industrial future.
Firstly, let me say that there are some aspects of his complaints and those of others that have leapt conveniently on to the anti-windfarm bandwagon that I agree with. For example, I accept the fact that wind energy is intermittent and that in certain weather conditions it’s utterly useless.
However, the fact is that wind – and wave, tidal and solar – as an energy source are to all intents and purposes freely and infinitely available to the human species, whereas oil, coal, gas and even nuclear will become heavily depleted through exploitation.
Despite TEA (taxed enough already) party type anti-climate change squeals of patriotic hysteria over possible American self-sufficiency, even shale gas, which is currently as cheap as chips in the US, will go back up in price as gas drilling reduces and reserves are sold off to bigger players who will ensure they make money out of it one way or the other.
Wind is therefore indeed a viable long-term resource and it’s actually really pretty daft arguing about this.
One might get upset over subsidies being paid to windfarm owners – many of whom aren’t even from these shores – and they may wish to complain that wind turbines are not particularly elegant devices. Both views are legitimate but not good enough reasons to stop their deployment, particularly offshore.
Similarly, there are concerns over noise and certainly bad planning control of some onshore windfarms has led to what might be termed as “acoustic rage” because turbines have been installed far too close to housing. This would seem though to be far less of a problem with offshore wind turbines because they have considerably larger but much slower and therefore quieter blades.
I find it interesting though that few people complain about the lack of indigenous investment, particularly in large scale wind turbine technology. Not many protest that none of the big turbines are built here by UK, let alone Scottish, companies.
Watching all those valuable sales falling into overseas hands is my main gripe about the industry and one of the reasons I support strongly the development of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), which is, of course, the windfarm that Trump asserts will spoil the view from his golf course.
So far, the development of wind energy technology has been fairly straightforward and predictable. We have progressively larger capacity turbines moving offshore where there’s plenty of space using latest generation direct drive – no gearbox – systems with lots of built-in condition monitoring stuff all aimed at generating electricity that can be transmitted ashore via a fat cable – which incidentally we don’t manufacture either. The cable usually forms part of a subsea grid laid by cable vessels which we also don’t build. In fact, I don’t think we operate one now either, do we?
So why do we need the EOWDC? Because where we are now with wind technology is only the beginning.
The industry requires more effective turbines that can generate more power at lower wind speeds; more efficient and “stealthier” blade designs, cheaper and better foundation designs, improved condition monitoring and control devices, better access methodologies, more effective maintenance methods and hardware replacement techniques.
There is also work to be done on power transmission, cables, connectors, switchgear and so on and so forth.
Most important of all though, we need to develop technologies to tackle the intermittency issue. In short that means energy storage. It’s the “holy grail” for wind; how to make sure windfarms are productive 100% of the time, or as close as possible to 100% as we can get.
Maybe that doesn’t mean moving electricity onshore but producing something else that can be stored and turned into electricity later. Work is already going on with big batteries and we could use pumped hydro.
Perhaps too, we should be using the electricity to run large-scale electrolysers that produce hydrogen that can be piped ashore. That can then be used to fire gas turbines to generate electricity for the grid and some can be stored to be used as a means of backing up the supply in times of low wind or indeed too much wind.
Actually this is, of course, what the PURE project is doing on Shetland, albeit on a small scale.
Add to this though the possibility of using that hydrogen to produce ammonia for use as a liquid transport fuel and wind technology will become even more attractive. Energy highlighted this at least two years ago.
So, wind technology represents a hugely valuable opportunity for Scottish companies. But, so far, we have barely scratched the surface of that opportunity . . . especially in the maritime context.
Now I don’t want to get into commenting on Donald Trump’s golf course plan because I’m not a golfer. I’ve never seen the attraction.
What I do know about golf though is that, as far as I can tell from Scottish Development International’s data base, Scotland only has one golf-related manufacturer which is a company making clubs down at St Andrews.
It’s not fair perhaps to make such a comparison but it would appear then that the industrial potential arising from the EOWDC project is going to be considerably larger than the contribution that Trump’s golf course might make to the Scottish economy.
However, I see no reason why the two shouldn’t co-exist. In fact, if I was Mr Trump I’d use the EOWDC as a selling point to attract wealthy overseas investors and industrialists.
No? Oh well – he’ll just have to live with it then.