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‘We can meet targets’

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The achievability of the Scottish Government’s 2020 renewable energy targets is to be examined by the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee shortly and is currently receiving evidence from stakeholders.

Among the most important of those is Scottish Renewables, which remains adamant that the power generation target . . . equivalent to 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs . . . is achievable, whereas it is less certain about the 11% renewable-based heat target.

SR’s chief executive, Niall Stuart told Energy that the power goal is wholly achievable but that there are various critical issues that threaten to derail the Holyrood ambition.

“I’m not sure that an industry has ever grown up under such intense public scrutiny,” he said. “There are people out there who would like this industry to fail.

He questions the focus of the committee and argues that the discussion should focus on the barriers and how they can be overcome.

“We can debate forever whether we’re going to hit those targets or not,” Stuart said. “One thing’s for sure, if we don’t put in place the right infrastructure, the right market framework, skills training and supply chain development, then we won’t.”

Today, about one third of Scotland’s electricity is renewables-based. The SR view is that there are plenty of projects proposed and in the pipeline to meet the 100%; indeed more than is necessary.

“We have around 5GW (gigawatts) deployed and there are another 17GW in scoping, planning or in construction. If we were to get all of that, it would take Scotland well over 100%,” said Stuart.

“Reality is that we need slightly less than half of the scoping, planning and construction total by 2020 to achieve the 100% target. At roughly 8GW, that’s more than enough.”

As for the main barriers to progress, Stuart listed these as being transportation of electricity to market, storage capacity, technology, slow market reform and, to a lesser extent, supply chain development. His view was that Scottish independence/”devo-max” was a separate issue.

“The first barrier is that there’s no point in generating all that power if we cannot transport it to market for consumption. But it’s happening. Last month, there was the announcement of the contract for the first of the (Scotland-England) subsea interconnectors . . . the first of the ‘boot straps’.

“Work is also well under way to strengthen the on-land grid connections. However, we still need the east coast subsea boot strap to happen.”

Stuart said storage has a key role to play in marrying-up output from renewables with the peaks and troughs of electricity demand but that, like the interconnectors, tangible progress was being made.

“We have just had the announcement from SSE for a new 600MW (megawatts) pump-storage scheme at Loch a’ Choire Ghlais. Their intention is to massively increase storage capacity in Scotland.”

On technology, Stuart said there was an urgent need for bigger, more reliable wind turbines and emphasised Aberdeen’s strategic role in this regard.

“The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) is absolutely critical to the industry’s effort to evolve from where we are today to where we need to be in the near future,” he warned. Stuart warned too that market reform had dragged on and that there was an urgent need for regulator Ofgem to sort it out.

“We’re disappointed that there remains so much uncertainty about what market reform will ultimately deliver. Unless we see an end to that uncertainty, then it will impact on investment decisions.”

As for the need for a locally-based supply chain, Stuart said it is important that this be developed but that, as things stood currently, generation targets could still be reached.

“Scotland could delivery 10GW of offshore wind with very little supply chain growth here. That would be a tragedy . . . a massive, missed opportunity. While building that supply chain isn’t necessary for the targets it is absolutely essential if we are to capture manufacturing and services opportunities and create the jobs that go with them.”

This parallels the start of the North Sea 40 years ago when the UK government was more interested in ramping up oil and gas production than developing a world-class supply chain. That was secondary, as related in the recent book Sea of Lost Opportunity by Norman Smith, a former head of the UK Offshore Supplies office.”

Stuart said the SR would be debating this topic at its forthcoming annual conference on March 27-28.

“One of the questions that the conference will be asking is, how can we ensure that Scotland captures the full economic benefit of offshore renewable investment by having a properly developed supply chain.

“The 100% target has given a level of certainty and confidence to the industry, which is fantastic. If we can remove the other uncertainties around grid and market reform, then that should hugely improve the likelihood of the supply chain developing here in Scotland.

“A lot of the bone structure is already in place . . . ports, the oil and gas capability, academia and other research centres, and Scotland’s overseas links.

“The oil and gas supply chain also offers a route to markets around the globe. Look at companies like the Wood Group, Petrofac, Subsea 7 and Technip. They are examples of companies now seriously interested in the offshore wind market . . . not just the North Sea but elsewhere too.

“The oil and gas industry clearly sees a business opportunity in renewable and are gearing up. They also understand that there is a clear and strong benefit in doing so, including the fact that it is making recruitment easier as renewable is considered highly attractive.

“Moreover, I see the boundary between the two sectors blurring over the next 10 years and I think the companies that are most likely to succeed are ones whose names we already know.”

While the bulk of the 100% is expected to be derived from wind, Stuart said the contribution from wave and tidal energy would be significant by 2020, despite the doubts in terms of maturity of technology, manufacturing of the kit and its installation.

But he acknowledged that wave and tidal remain “financially challenged because the various technologies have yet to achieve commercial viability.

“My instinct is that the logistics of wave and tidal are such that I think it will make economic sense to assemble/manufacture the plant close to where it will be deployed.

“This is why we’re confident we will become home to significant manufacture of wave and tidal technologies or, at the very least, assembly.

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