VIEWPOINT: Celebrating strong role for onshore wind
Scotland’s onshore wind sector came together in Glasgow at our Onshore Wind Conference & Exhibition last week, as part of the celebrations around Onshore Wind Week.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse opened the day and acknowledged Scotland’s soon to be world-leading position on statutory climate targets, noting that “our action on emissions will be complete within a generation".
Mr Wheelhouse spoke of the key role that the continued deployment of onshore wind would play in meeting these targets, with his strong support for the sector clear when labelling Westminster’s continual exclusion of the cheapest form of new power generation from the energy market as “inexcusable”.
The nationwide urgency which has been instilled into the climate change debate by youth protests and street demonstrations created a sense of optimism among a sector which has, in the main, been excluded from the energy system since 2015.
Paul Cooley, of headline sponsor SSE Renewables, acknowledged the stark contrast between the strong public backing of climate change and the political inaction in London.
Speaking on the urgency of delivering new onshore wind projects, he said: "For developers this means targeting the best technology at the windiest sites and working to bring costs down.”
Lesley Black, of Campbeltown-based CS Wind, discussed how investment in wind energy at the plant, which employs more than 100 people, had helped overcome economic deprivation in the local community.
The company, which recently invested in equipment and skills to double productivity in just 12 months, has focused its onshore wind arm on projects developed without government support.
The lack of market access and the uncertainty this brings to the sector was also a key theme throughout the day, with Neil Douglas of BVG Associates recognising that “only the fittest” of Scotland’s onshore wind projects will be built.
The importance of the public’s acceptance and support for the sector, and the implications this would play in the future, was also a central theme of the event, with Simon Peltenburg of Ripple Energy saying: "This is all about public engagement. That engagement will drive government to act, and the democratisation of energy which will result will drive a decrease in energy bills."
Innovation and optimisation took centre stage as the discussion on cost continued throughout the conference.
Stephen Ford from Vestas, the world's largest turbine manufacturer, said: "Improving annual energy output has the greatest single impact on costs, and increased tip heights and larger rotors are the most effective lever we have to increase that output.
"Just a handful of years ago we were using 112- to 117-metre rotors, but the acceleration of technology change is high, with the rotor range for onshore turbines now up to 150 metres."
The logistical challenges that come with the innovation of larger turbines was discussed by logistics business Collett & Sons, which has been transporting onshore wind components since the very start of the industry in the UK.
Managing director David Collett used eye-opening images to demonstrate the process of moving components from port to site, focusing on how technology changes in the sector must be reflected in the investment made by supply chain firms like his.
The day's last session, on planning and consenting, reflected the pressures of the Planning (Scotland) Bill's passage through parliament, with speakers from Wood, South Lanarkshire Council, ScottishPower Renewables and Natural Power expressing their frustration at the time this is taking.
In spite of this, the conference reflected the cautious optimism that has developed within the onshore wind sector and beyond. It is now up to industry and government to ensure this optimism is reflected across the country.