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Scotland’s renewables story proves to be an inspiration

 

WWF Scotland recently hosted a delegation of colleagues from WWF Poland to show them first hand the great work being done on renewables.  Below is an overview of the trip from Tobiasz Adamczewski, Climate and energy expert, WWF Poland.

Scotland’s renewables story proves to be an inspiration

While working on climate and energy issues in Poland, it is very difficult to comprehend the ambitions of some countries to decarbonize their economies. Not because those goals are impossible to reach, but because there is a certain threshold in public policy, which seems impossible to cross. This is why I decided to visit Scotland – a renewable powerhouse, full of forward looking people.

Thanks to our colleagues in Scotland not only was I able to learn first-hand about what Scotland’s energy transition looks like, but I was able to do it alongside a couple of public servants and a mainstream journalist, who joined me from Poland. The experience was in some ways fascinating, but overall I would call it first and foremost educational.

Day 1: Politics and R and D

One of the first things our group did was visit the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee which is looking into the future of Scotland’s energy supply.  This was a shocker.

No personal innuendos. No teeth-grinding. No accusations. Just questions and answers. Experts and politicians, from different parties, in one room discussing not why an energy transition needs to happen, but how.

A small room with a round table and a warm welcome, including a special mention for the “Polish delegation”, all felt like this should be the standard setting for talking about energy.

Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh © Tobiasz AdamczewskiScottish Parliament, Edinburgh © Tobiasz Adamczewski

In the meantime, back in Poland on 5 May , the Parliamentary Group of Raw Materials and Energy, held a conference “Climate policy: globally and regionally”, initiated by Poland’s ex-chief geologist, a conservative from the Law and Justice Party, which currently polls the highest and is bound to take over the parliament in autumn. The invited professors, experts and business representatives all backed each others climate denial speeches. The main message was clear: CO2 is obviously not a greenhouse gas. One of the invited experts even compared the ecologist movement to the “brownshirts” – the first Nazi paramilitary group Sturmabteilung.

Back in Scotland the “Polish delegation” enjoyed a trip to Fife Energy Park. Aside from viewing one of the largest wind turbines ever built – 7MW, 196 meter tall, offshore Samsung wind turbine – and checking out the Bright Green Hydrogen project, we witnessed first-hand what transforming post-coal communities could look like. Actually placing the Fife Energy Park in Fife turned out to be a strategic decision. Back in the day, the community’s economy depended heavily on coal mining. We even passed a place called “Coaltown” on our way down from Edinburgh. Now Methil, home of the Fife Energy Park, is the centre for clean energy innovation, investment and job opportunities in a growing offshore wind industry.

Fife Energy Park © Tobiasz AdamczewskiFife Energy Park © Tobiasz Adamczewski

Poland’s coal mining industry faces some harsh times. For the first time in decades, the amount of workers employed by the industry dropped below 100 thousand, while the first four months of 2015 brought a loss of 800 million PLN (200 million EUR). During the recent presidential election campaign all major candidates proclaimed their devotion to “saving the Polish coal sector” accusing each other of being pro-EU climate policy. However, these political gestures never had and never will have any bearing on the reality that coal mining is not a sector which can be saved. Economics, climate policy and new technologies seem to have a deadly choke-hold on the sector. The truth that there will be less and less jobs in the industry will sooner or later have to be told, even by mainstream politicians. But it should be met with a constructive proposal to the hardest hit communities. Creating jobs in the renewables and efficiency sectors could help.

Day 2: Transmission, wind and governance

While the first day was great in terms of scene-setting and looking into the future of the Scottish power sector – hydrogen, hybrid-RES and humungous offshore-wind turbines – the second day let us take a broader glance at the practical side of the Scottish energy transformation.

From a Polish NGO perspective, it was quite refreshing to be able to meet and talk to a Transmission System Operator (TSO) – Scottish Power Network. The first meeting was held at their HQ in Glasgow, a typical badge and enter office building. What wasn’t typical is that we were able to hold a 90 minute frank discussion about how the TSO, and one of the country’s largest wind developers, plans to deal with the political decision to meet 100% of demand from renewables by 2020 and decarbonize the Scottish power sector by 2030. Having senior people at the table meant we were able to get a broad overview of what needs to be done and what challenges lie ahead.  These include grid stability and supply dependability in a world of growing variable power, while keeping prices as low as possible for the end customer.

But when asked whether it wouldn’t just be easier to invest in more base-load capacity, the engineers stressed that their job is to find solutions to the challenges which lie ahead, not to complain. So Scottish Power plans to invest in increasing transmission capacity with the rest of the UK, such as the sub-sea WesternLink project, and build more onshore and offshore wind, for example the £2 billion West Anglia investment.

Scottish Power was also kind enough to show us around one of the world’s largest (539 MW) wind farms,  Whitelee  near Glasgow.

Whitelee Wind Farm Fife © Tobiasz AdamczewskiWhitelee Wind Farm Fife © Tobiasz Adamczewski

We had the privilege of visiting Scottish Power’s brand new control centre, which was as organised and neat on the inside as it was in its continuously projected data. Aside from planning maintenance work and communicating with grid operators, the engineers have a great on-demand weather forecast for the whole of the UK. Although wind energy is an intermittent power source, predicting production has become a fine art mastered by the controllers. The only downside was that they didn’t let us take pictures inside their facility!

At the same time, it is worth mentioning that Poland has also developed a vast capacity based on wind power. Although the power mix still heavily depends on coal, wind is the one alternative source that managed to show growth and potential. Currently there is almost 4GW of installed wind capacity – a number which has been growing steadily over the past ten years. A PWC simulation of the incoming auction system showed that this trend is most likely to continue (although not necessarily as strong). However, what the future holds for other technologies, such as offshore wind, biomass, biogas and solar, including micro-renewable support, isn’t as clear.

In the second half of the day, the “Polish delegation” met the Scottish Government officials. Aside from having a ‘big picture’ chat, we got into a few details concerning “The Community And Renewable Energy Scheme” (CARES). As it turns out, Scotland has a plan to build up 500 MW of micro and small renewable capacity in communities by 2020. A £20 million Local Energy Challenge Fund (LECF) is supposed to help in achieving the goal, and a local energy officer is at your disposal should you need help to apply. The next day, we had the pleasure of meeting Laura Campbell, the Project Manager of the Challenge Fund, who further explained all the details of the available support to develop community power in Scotland.

This led me to think of the Polish CARES and LECF – the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. With their newly reinstated program called “Prosument”, the Fund is ready and willing to expand PLN 800 million (£140 million) by 2022. Moreover, thanks to EU funding, they’re already training local energy advisors to help out communities with their energy challenges.

By the end of the trip, it turned out that Scotland and Poland aren’t all that different. Both have vast wind capacity installed, capability to expand RES investments offshore and support for micro-renewable energy. Scotland and Poland have both reduced 30% of their greenhouse gasses since their base years and have a very similar per capita carbon footprint. Recently, one of our major power companies (PGE) has even announced that it will invest in an R and D power-to-gas project!

But the one thing that makes all the difference is foresight. Scotland knows what kind of energy future it wants: a nice, big 100% renewables kind. One with job growth potential in innovative sectors. One with energy security. One with clean air and manageable energy bills. Now they are just trying to figure out how. In Poland, on the other hand, we still haven’t quite figured out why.

comparison/data:

Scotland Poland
Area 77900 km2 306220 km2
Population 5,3 mln 38,5 mln
DGP (Q3 2013 – Q3 2014) GBP 150 billionEUR 207 billion PLN 1712 billionEUR 420 billion
DGP/capita EUR 38854 EUR 10914
CO2 tonnes e (year 2012) 52,9 399,3
CO2 tonnes e per capita (year 2012) 9,9 10,4
CO2 reductions since 1990 (SC) and 1988 (PL) 29,9% 29,9%
Energy use, 2012 (Mtoe) 15,4 66,6
Energy use per capita, 2012 (toe) 2,9 1,7


Sources:
.ons.gov.uk, data.worldbank.org, www.gov.scot, demografia.stat.gov.pl, stat.gov.pl, xe.com (11 May 2015), NIR 2014 KOBIZE

Do you agree Scotland’s renewable industry is a good example for others to follow?  Leave us a comment

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