Clean and Green: Renewable Energy and the Moray Firth

Calum Davidson, Head of Key Sectors for Highlands & Islands Enterprise, updated delegates at the MFP Annaul Conference, 23 May 2008, on renewable energy developments and opportunities around the Moray Firth.

Once completed, Glendoe will be the largest hydro scheme in the UK. Sited alongside Loch Ness, the scheme would provide enough power for all the homes in a city the size of Glasgow if operating at its maximum 100MW output.

The Talisman Beatrice project currently consists of two 5MW machines in the Moray Firth 25km off the coast of Helmsdale.

Should this demonstrator project prove successful, then plans are to scale the project up to a 200 machine array, creating 1000MW (1GW) of energy. Currently the 2 turbines are providing around 30% of the Beatrice oil platform’s daily energy requirement. The turbines are so far performing better than expected.

The Balcas biomass plant near Invergordon is a £24 million project which will produce 100,000 tonnes of Brites, the Balcas branded wood pellet, enough to heat 20,000 homes every year. It signals good news for the region’s jobs market too with 38 full-time posts being created at the plant and indirectly a further 307 Scotland-wide.

Located on hills of the Novar Estate in Ross-shire, npower’s Novar wind farm consists of 34 turbines capable of generating some 17 megawatts of electricity. The wind farm, which opened in 1997, covers an area of 300 hectares, but the turbines themselves only take up 1% of that land. It is located at an altitude of about 600 metres above sea level and generates enough electricity to supply the annual needs of some 9,500 homes with clean, sustainable electricity.

Nigg yard provides a fantastic opportunity for the renewables industry in the whole of the Highlands and Islands and Scotland. It is hoped that the yard will become a multi-user facility, with renewables having a key part to play. Evanton based company, Isleburn, part of the Global Energy Group, has a workshop there which has already played a part in some of the area’s key projects. The Beatrice turbines were assembled and towed out from Nigg and Aquamarine Power Ltd’s prototype wave energy converter, Oyster, is currently under construction there, and the company has also been involved in the offshore wind industry, having built the monopiles for the Scroby Sands development.

The Cromarty Firth is an excellent resource for the area in terms of development of the renewable sector. The deep water port has been used on a number of occasions to bring in turbine towers for numerous onshore wind farms around the Highlands &Islands.

Wavegen are an Inverness based wave energy technology company, now owned by German company Voith Siemens. Wavegen owns and operates the LIMPET plant on Islay – the world’s first commercial wave power station. Wavegen also has a project in Mutriku in Spain, and has entered into partnership with npower renewables to develop a breakwater project for Siadar in the Western Isles. Should the project get the go ahead, once built, it could provide up to 4MW of power.

AWS Ocean Energy, based in Alness, have developed the Archimedes Wave Swing Device. AWS are currently in discussions with EMEC about taking a berth to deploy a pre-commercial device there next year. NSIG are a local trade group consisting of a number of local companies with involvement in the oil/gas/renewables sectors.

UHI are undertaking a good deal of R&D in the renewables sector right across the whole of the Highlands &Islands. Inverness College is particularly interested in micro renewables, and has been running a fair bit of installer training. ERI in Thurso and SAMS in Argyll are the main players in marine energy.

Weldex is a local crane hire company which now undertakes work on a global basis. It has been involved in a number of significant projects – namely the Talisman Beatrice project. Synergie is a local project management company which has been heavily involved in the works at EMEC and undertakes a good bit of work on HIE’s behalf.

A couple of years ago there was a year long PR campaign mainly focussed on awareness raising and building understanding of renewables among the general public. In particular, the schools’ activity was very successful. The Big Green Challenge was a debating competition open to S1, 2 and 3 and included prizes such as a trip to Navarre in Spain, a trip to the Eden project and MP3 players. The competition was won by the Nicolson Institute, and is being run again this year. We hope to sign up even more schools this year, and once again have some exciting prizes.

The primary school workshops were run across the entire region, with 100 schools and almost 2,200 pupils taking part. These were a great success, and will be run again in the next academic year. Both teacher and pupil feedback have been extremely positive and a similar programme of activity will run again next year.

The National Grid desperately needs to be upgraded. Public support is important– as well as the grid upgrade with controversy over pylons or undergrounding, onshore wind is also highly controversial.

We need more accredited installers of renewables to tackle the skills shortages. Also, recruitment of suitably skilled and qualified engineers is proving problematic. There are some gaps in the local supply chain, but with some more work on diversification and inward investment, these can be addressed.

We need to see more R&D. EMEC is a good example of pre-commercial testing to get ready for commercial deployment of marine energy converters. We also need to help UHI build its capacity and work with other institutes to help ensure that the region makes the most of its unrivalled resource.

Planning is currently one of the biggest gripes among developers. The current system sees projects taking far too long to go through the process. Scot Govt are however trying to address this, and have been working on a 9 month timescale to take projects through, as opposed to the several years many projects now take.