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Marine renewables expected to power ahead in Scotland's year of coasts and waters

By Highlands & Islands Enterprise - Energy team

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Elain MacRae, head of energy strategy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, reflects on a year of achievement in the region’s energy sector

O2 2MW Floating Tidal Energy Turbine. Picture: Orbital Marine Power
O2 2MW Floating Tidal Energy Turbine. Picture: Orbital Marine Power

Last year was quite a year in the energy sector, not just in the Highlands and Islands but across the UK, with many key achievements worthy of reflection.

In February, the Scottish Government announced the £10 million Saltire Tidal Energy Fund to support commercial deployment of tidal energy generation in Scottish waters.

The fund’s first award was £3.4 million in August to Scottish company Orbital Marine Power, to deliver the next generation O2 2MW floating tidal energy turbine. This is under construction in Dundee using steel from Liberty in Motherwell. It will be deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney and will be capable of powering more than 1700 homes.

March saw the announcement that renewable electricity generation in Scotland had reached record levels during 2018 – 74.6 per cent, an increase of 6.1 per cent.

Meanwhile, in May the UK ran for a fortnight without using coal to generate electricity, the country’s longest coal-free run since 1882. The record for solar power was also beaten that month, with 25 per cent of UK power coming directly from the sun on one day.

Offshore wind saw a huge boost in March, with the launch of the sector deal. Highlights include commitments to increase UK content in projects to 60 per cent by 2030. At HIE we are keen to support this through initiatives like O4B Highlands and Islands, run by Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

The deal also commits industry to increasing the representation of women in offshore wind to at least one-third by 2030, and deploy up to 30GW of capacity by the same deadline.

Elain MacRae, head of energy strategy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Picture: Gillian Frampton, HIE
Elain MacRae, head of energy strategy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Picture: Gillian Frampton, HIE

Crown Estate Scotland’s forthcoming leasing round will support this, with more than 9GW of capacity up for grabs in Scottish waters, significantly around the Highlands and Islands coastline.

Perhaps the biggest and most memorable milestone of 2019 in energy and climate change terms came in the spring. The First Minister announced a climate emergency and parliament then adopted legislation to set a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

These targets are the most ambitious in the world and require a huge amount of effort and action by the entire population. Energy will clearly have an important role, particularly in seeking ways to decarbonise our heat and transport sectors.

September was a month of highs and lows. First came the announcement that Glasgow will host COP26 in November 2020; a global climate change summit at arguably a turning point in our future.

Then came the Contract for Difference (CfD) results. Of the 6GW of offshore and remote island wind capacity, only 1GW was awarded to Scottish projects. Among those missing out were Moray West and Viking. The Viking loss in cast doubt on the future of the island transmission links on Shetland. The same can be said of the Western Isles following the Lewis projects being unable to secure a CfD.

It remains an uncertain time in energy terms for our islands, despite their undeniable potential to contribute to the net-zero targets. HIE remains committed to pushing for a resolution.

On a more positive note, December saw the Scottish Green Energy Awards, a highlight in the renewables calendar, celebrating successes and achievements in the sector.

Winners included the Beatrice project (judges’ award), Green Marine in Orkney (outstanding service award), the CREE project on Canna (best community project), and Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (outstanding contribution award).

As we start 2020, Scotland’s year of coasts and waters, we can expect the spotlight to remain on the advances being made in our marine renewable sector.

Given the progress so far, there is good cause for optimism and a year from now we will no doubt be reflecting on a whole new range of achievements.

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