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Preparing for post-pandemic energy transition

By Rob Gibson

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Sullom Voe oil terminal and gas plant in Shetland.
Sullom Voe oil terminal and gas plant in Shetland.

My concerns this month focus on post pandemic, the new normal, for which we need to start planning. Just transition from fossil fuel to clean power requires clarity.

The posturing of oil and gas firms for further subsidies from the UK government requires to be probed. Equally important for getting back to business, the joust between proponents of electric battery-powered vehicles versus hydrogen fuel-cell power bears scrutiny.

The threat to 30,000 jobs in oil and gas, more than half of which are based in Scotland, has led industry body Oil and Gas UK to seek further support from the UK government, which controls energy policy. As one response, the Strategic Leadership Group in Oil and Gas and Energy Transition chaired by Scottish Government energy minister Paul Wheelhouse is wrestling with the strategy that oil and gas firms need to take to survive and develop.

They should be guided by IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. It has been reported that 2019 saw 72 per cent of development of all energy sources come from renewables. It seems that renewable energy growth was double the rate of fossil fuel development, with Asia taking half of that share.

From our point of view, it was wind and solar installation that accounted for 90 per cent of that renewable total.

IRENA director Francesco La Camera reinforced the message that renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility, supports economic stability and stimulates sustainable growth. We can see many countries and regions recognise that energy transition can deliver positive outcomes that build resilience into our economies, which need a decade of increased investment and development to hit our climate-change targets.

That said, the challenge of coronavirus has hit supply chains such as that of the Moray Firth East offshore wind scheme, which was consented in 2014. To underline how global the component chain is, the 950 megawatt (MW) project shares ownership by EDP Renewables, Mitsubishi subsidiary DGE, French firm Engie and the remaining stake is owned by China Three Gorges. Its directors hope to keep on track for delivery.

On a consenting note, the Viking onshore wind scheme on Shetland has finally got the go-ahead from Ofgem. This requires SSE subsidiary Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to build a 600MW subsea electricity transmission link to reach the grid, probably in Moray.

Shetland can gain some permanent jobs and hopefully a huge chunk of community benefit at least as generous as the oil revenue deal for Sullum Voe back in the 1970s. We shall see.

Now the dilemma between battery and fuel-cell powered vehicles. It seems the life cycle costs, build, run, recycle and dispose, are complex, placing certainty "years away at present". I am indebted to Which? magazine for May 2020 for this.

For us in the Highlands and Islands, distance driving and charging points really matter. This debate will run and run, no doubt.

Rob Gibson.
Rob Gibson.
  • robgibson273@btinternet.com

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