The UK’s most northerly regions have suffered over the last century from the decline in primary industries such as coalmining and shipbuilding, but their long coastline and blustery climate are forging new employment opportunities in the fast growing renewable energy sector.
Amazingly, the proportion of electricity generated from renewables in Scotland reached a record two fifths of total Scottish electricity usage in 2012. The country’s target is to achieve 100% of electricity consumption being produced by renewables by 2020 and, by next year, it should be about half way towards this figure.
Scotland and the North also benefit from being sparsely populated compared with the South of England so they don’t tend to encounter so much vehement local opposition to new wind farms. In Scotland, wind turbines are the fastest growing of all the renewable energy technologies.
The country’s popularity amongst wind farm investors is probably due to the fact that, while most turbines in the EU produce electricity at an average of 25% of their maximum power, Scotland’s windy climate provides an average of 40% or even higher on the west and northern coasts. Not surprisingly, the country is already home to the largest onshore wind farm in Europe at Whitelee near Glasgow where there are over 200 turbines.
The Scottish target of generating its entire electricity requirements by 2020 is the most ambitious in the world but this could be just the start of a major new industry employing thousands.
Scotland accounts for 25% of Europe’s entire wind resource and therefore has the capacity to produce a huge amount of clean, sustainable energy that could be sold, not only into the UK’s national grid but also exported to the Continent.
As if this potential were not eye-watering enough, Scotland and the North of England could also use their long coastlines to produce additional large supplies of renewable energy from wave and tidal power. Clearly, these technologies are still very much in their infancy but preliminary estimates by the Crown Estates Commission reckon that Scotland on its own has two thirds of the UK’s wave power potential and a third of its potential tidal energy.
This means that the country could eventually produce between 20 and 40 GW of wave / tidal energy on top of the massive surplus it is already likely to enjoy from its wind farms. The combined surplus could ultimately be sufficient to provide as much as a quarter of the European Union’s total electricity requirement. The long term roll out of wind, wave and tidal energy infrastructure will bring jobs and investment to coastal communities across Scotland, providing a much needed economic boost to many areas.
Nor indeed is this the end of the story. Scotland, Northumbria, Yorkshire and Cumbria can all profit by virtue of their size and low population density from other less publicised alternative power sources such as anaerobic digestion, solar farms and geothermal energy.
Article supplied by Baker Tilly Accountants in Edinburgh