With over 40 community groups across Scotland currently taking forward renewable energy projects, there is no sign of the country slowing down its renewable plan: 100% renewable energy by 2020.
Private power sector resilient
New figures reveal that 775 organisations have bought generating equipment in a bid to distance themselves from escalating energy costs and instead make money by selling their surplus power to the grid. [Communities Driving Wind Power in Scotland with £8.8m In Benefits].
The figure rose from 509 in 2013, according to a report from Smartest Energy, a buyer of energy generated by the UK’s independent sector. Every week last year, over £1.5 million was invested in the sector. Iain Robertson, Glasgow-based Head of Generation for SmartestEnergy, said the latest figures highlighted the significance of the sector in Scotland. He adds that the figures prove the sector’s resilience to political uncertainty, changes to renewable subsidies and the decrease in wholesale power prices.
An estimated £80.9 million was spent developing 267 new wind, hydro, solar and anaerobic digestion projects in 2014, taking the total spend to just over £494 million, according to the Energy Entrepreneurs 2015 report.
In total, Scotland now has 775 commercial-scale projects over 50kW capacity now operating outside of the big power companies. They are generating £271 million worth of electricity a year, enough to power more than 1.4 million households. Out of the 775 projects during 2014, onshore wind accounts for the bulk of projects (497) followed by hydro (173), landfill gas (43) and solar PV (32). Figures have been compiled from project data from the Ofgem FiT Register and the Ofgem Renewables and CHP Register as at 31 December 2014.
Despite its size, Scotland attracts almost a quarter of the total spend in the independent sector to date across the UK. This amount is equivalent to £494.1 million.
Stephanie Clark, Policy Manager at industry body Scottish Renewables, said: “This report shows quite clearly that there is a growing willingness to consider renewable technology as a way to fix energy bills rather than exposing a business or community to fluctuations in the wholesale cost of fossil fuel energy supplied from the grid.”
The number of solar sites north of the border almost doubled during the year with 15 new projects taking the total number up to 32, while anaerobic digestion projects, which can turn waste food into electricity, also saw strong growth with five new sites taking total numbers up to 12.
Private power equals opportunities for utilities
The growth in this sector should be looked at by utilities as a major opportunity. Forward-thinking utilities can contribute to this sector in a number of innovative ways. Utilities can help communities and private entities get organized and help them manage their distributed power. Utilities can use data management to provide a better service to their customers and should be compensated for this data assimilation and analytics, says Thierry Godart, Schneider Electric Utility President. [Energy Transition-A Rebirth for Utilities.]
For instance, Netherlands utility Alliander, supports the island of Texel in its aim to create its own energy infrastructure in order to become less dependent on the mainland. [Texel Community Aims for Self-Sustainability.] They do this by supplying the island community with smart meters so that their generation and consumption levels can be monitored efficiently. Community participants have access to generation levels – which can be predicted 24 hours ahead – and consumption habits. This data, communicated via a consol in the household, will help households manage their energy consumption better. Energy prices are also predicted a day ahead so consumers can manage their energy costs. Prices can range dramatically based on energy availability so this capability is very useful for consumers.
Government support goes a long way
A private community that generates a large amount of renewable energy can make a large contribution to helping reduce a community's reliance on fossil fuels. This also leads to a greater awareness of energy issues, increased energy efficiency across the community and a reduction in energy costs and carbon emissions. The income generated from such projects can be significant for communities and can lead to self sufficiency for community organisations and re-investment in the local area reducing grant dependency. Individuals also have the ability to pool their resources and set-up a community cooperative. Run on a commercial scale, these projects can add significantly to the local economy.
The Scottish government shows great support for these projects in the form of financing programmes that offer assistance to renewable energy projects in both the planning and deployment phases. These include the Scottish Government Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), Scottish Investment Bank’s Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF), and Home Energy Scotland. Community Energy Scotland is a registered charity that provides practical help for communities on green energy development and energy conservation. It is supported separately by local communities.
The above figures paint a clear and exciting picture of a country committed to a clean energy future that is willing to support its words with actions in the form of substantial and ongoing budgets and practical support.