Slowly, but ever so slowly, power from the waves and tides is being looked at seriously, presumably as developers begin to realise that the the old wind power subsidy was actually a renewable energy subsidy, coupled with the realisation that serious amounts of wind power would not only see every attractive piece of wilderness sprout wind turbines, but also every just about every piece of open land as well.
The European Marine Energy Centre at Stromness is currently has almost a dozen experimental devices designed to capture the energy of the tides and the waves, under evaluation, although it’s still too early to tell if any of them will work on a large scale or ever succeed commercially. What matter though is that they are being tested, and tested in a seriously stressful environment.
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Scotland is potentially at the forefront of these technologies, and should be taking a lead from the other countries around the world that took a lead with wind power.
If these developments are not managed and handled properly, then the advances made at places such as Stromness will go the same way as most other Scottish innovations.
Recall that the world is full of inventions that e created by Scots, many of them famous, but not for making their fortune from, or exploiting their creations at home. Rather, a read through the history books will usually show that they had to leave these shores and go abroad before they found backers and investors, so the real winners were usually America or Canada, not Scotland.
Making a nice change from the usual gloomy onshore wind power mentions, and their opposition, this is hopefully the forerunner of many more mentions for hydro-electric wave energy, as momentum begins to build for this arguably more sensible option – in my opinion at least. After all, the waves wave 24/7, while the wind blows… when it feels like it.
According to wave energy company Aquamarine Power, Orkney currently has “the world’s largest working hydro-electric wave energy device”, and “the world’s only hydro-electric wave energy device which is producing power
The device is sited just off Orkney, and was switched on by First Minister Alex Salmond, today, November 20, 2009, when Aquamarine Power’s ‘Oyster’ was connected to the national grid as part of sea trials.
The device comprises a hinged flap which is connected to the sea-bed, with each wave causes the flap to move, and drive a hydraulic piston. The system produces power by pumping high pressure water to its onshore hydro-electric turbine. A farm of 20 Oysters could provide energy to power 9,000 three-bedroom homes.
Having launched the first system, Mr Salmond also announced new funding of £975,000 to help deliver ‘Oyster 2’.
Further information in Aquamarines’s Press Release – Scotland’s First Minister launches Oyster.
Although the actual opening of the Glendoe scheme didn’t get a mention, we did note the start of reservoir filling operations back in 2008.
Opened by the Queen in June 2009, the new £140 million Glendoe hydro electric scheme near Loch Ness was reported to be expected to be out of action until 2010, and not early on in the year either. A rock fall which had taken place during August, near the top of one of the tunnels, was then described as “very substantial”, and led to closure of the tunnel which carries water from the reservoir to the turbines.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) said: “SSE is now working with its principal contractor and others to determine how best to effect the necessary repairs and achieve a resumption of electricity generation at the site, but this will not take place until well into 2010 at the earliest.”
Things had looked bad after the initial report, and only got worse as investigations continued.
The anticipated date for return to service of the Glendoe scheme has been further revised, and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has now said it was unlikely the plant would be running again until April 2011.
The damage is such that the operator is considering construction of a new tunnel, which may have to be built to bypass the damaged section at Glendoe.
Reminds me of the days when I had to deal with irate customers that would bring in broken equipment looking for repair quotations, and who wouldn’t listen when I told them they could have an estimate. They couldn’t (or wouldn’t) grasp the concept that I could assign an engineer to repair the obvious fault they brought their kit in with, but that from experience, we know that this apparent symptom would almost certainly only be sign of more underlying problems which would have caused, or been caused by, the apparent problem.
I can only imagine the problems of dealing with problems buried in a tunnel.
Plans have been announced for a tidal power scheme by ScottishPower, intended to supply almost all electricity for the inhabitants of Islay for 23 hours a day.
The company currently plans to apply for planning permission to install ten 30-metre underwater turbines, at a cost of £50 million, capable of supplying 10 MW to the island’s population of 3,500 when the installation is completed in 2011. They will be sited in the Sound of Islay, where the tidal water is said to move at up to three metres per second.
The Islay Energy Trust, a community organisation chaired by Philip Maxwell, has been helping to lobby local politicians and opponents of the project. In return, it will receive a small slice of the revenue to fund community projects on the island, such as a swimming pool. George J Gillies is a local fisherman who fishes for crab and lobster at either end of the Sound of Islay in winter. He complains that his lobster nets could get tangled in the turbines and says the project threatens the livelihood of eight local fishing families. But he seems resigned: “If it’s going to generate money, it will get the go-ahead.” Because the generators at Islay will be on the seabed, no one can see them and the Scottish government will have the final say on planning.
Although there are opponents to the scheme, there is also strong support on the island. The Caol Ila distillery overlooks the Sound, and like the rest of the island, gets most of its electricity from Hunterston, a nuclear power station on the mainland. But the reactor is being decommissioned in 2016 and the distillery suffers frequent power cuts in stormy weather when electricity pylons are blown over.
Alan Mortimer, head of renewables at ScottishPower, admitted tidal energy is more expensive than offshore wind, which costs up to £3 million per MW built and itself is only barely economic. Tidal developers earn more subsidies under the Renewable Obligation Scheme than offshore wind( and presumably onshore wind), but only once schemes are operational.
The renewable energy industry admits the techniques to generate electricity from marine energy are in their infancy. Morna Cannon, from Scottish Renewables, said: “This makes it very hard to pin down the costs of the technology at the moment.”
Although the project is to be applauded, the comments above confirm my own long held belief that such schemes have long been ignored and starved of investment, and hence research over the years, in favour of the more high profile and visible wind power option, which is easier for grinning politicians to be photographed beside, and earn “Green Brownie Points” in the media and public eye. It also avoids the backlash that the myopic rush for onshore wind power brought upon itself, as developers raced to get their subsidies, and planted wind farms anywhere they could – until the public started to get sick of the sight of them.
Floating on a boat above an invisible generator bolted to seabed doesn’t have the same attraction for a photo-opportunity, although some might relish the prospect of photographs of some MPs struggling underwater, and trying to look serious while the cope with their newly acquired SCUBA gear.
I’m beginning to think I have to start any renewable energy post with a reminder that I’m not against wind power or wind farms, far from it – provided they’re in the right place (not in the middle of beauty spots or in folks back gardens). My problem is, and always will be, with the short-sighted knee-jerk reaction that sees it as the panacea for renewables, and the only solution to be pursued, regardless of suitability, to eliminate the need for fossil fuels, and to install it wherever possible, regardless of who is walked over to achieve that end.
There was a recent story reported by the BBC regarding a large number of goats in Taiwan which may have died of exhaustion because of noise from a wind farm. A farmer living on an outlying island told the BBC he had lost more than 400 animals after eight giant wind turbines were installed close to his grazing land. The local Council of Agriculture says it suspects that noise may have caused the goats’ demise through lack of sleep.Before the wind farm was built about four years ago, farmer Kuo Jing-shan had about 700 goats.Shortly after the electricity-generating turbines were installed, the 57-year-old says his animals started to die. He now has just 250 goats left. Penghu is notorious for its strong howling winds. Mr Kuo said the stronger the wind, the louder the machines became: “The goats looked skinny and they weren’t eating. One night I went out to the farmhouse and the goats were all standing up; they weren’t sleeping. I didn’t know why. If I had known, I would’ve done something to stop the dying”, he told BBC’ reporter Cindy Sui in Taiwan.
I don’t say the cause is, or is not the wind farm, installed only 40 metres from this farmer’s grazing land, but merely use the tale to illustrate that the phenomenon is not local, and that unlike a factory, there is still little regard given to pollution or other effects arising from such installations. While it’s easy for people to point at chemical spills and the like, noise, or other as yet unconsidered effects that occur around wind farms are not taken seriously, or ignored by those with an interest in having them installed.
More interesting, and relevant, is renewed interest in hydro-power in Scotland, where it’s now over 50 years since the first dams were built in the hills, and giant turbines installed in the original, massive hydro-electric power schemes. The original giants have since been supplemented by smaller systems, and only last year we noted that the options for really useful amounts of power to be generated by expanding on this idea were probably somewhat limited, since all the prime sites for such plans had already been used. Those that remain would possibly be too small to be effective, or lie in areas where the flooding caused by the dam needed to created the required reservoir would result in outcry and opposition. (back to the wind farm problem again).
New thinking, at last, may see much renewed interest in hydro power.
A £30 million scheme, the Sloy project, aims to see a pumped storage facility added to the existing facility near the head of Loch Lomond. This would allow water to be pumped up into Loch Sloy during periods of low demand, for example from wind turbines which may be operating during the night, and then used to generate power during periods of peak demand.
Sloy currently generates about 120 GWh. With the addition of pumped storage, this would be expected to rise by some 100 GWh.
An industry/government study published last September calculated there are another 600 megawatts of “financially viable” hydro power to be found in Scotland, much of it from small-scale, run-of-the-river projects. That’s nearly half as much again as is currently installed. And it’s twice as much as the new Glendoe project, which has been installed above Loch Ness, and is reported to provide power for 100,000 homes during the short times it’s called upon. Glendoe is a new plant which uses the latest technology, with a drop of 600 metres through its new tunnel, and able to deliver its power to the National Grid within 30 seconds of asking.
It seems there is now a new approach being described by companies such as SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy), still known in parts of Scotland as the Hydro Board, and the ‘Scottish Hydro-Electric’ brand is still the main one for customers north of the Border. Rather than seeking to identify small sites which might be described as “splash-and-dash” solutions that have traditionally filled small gaps and peaks in demand, they are looking for more significant pumped storage solutions that can run for days when there is no wind.
This signals two significant changes in attitude. The obvious one whereby there is a desire to find useful hydro power sites, including pumped storage and run-of-river projects – which have featured recently – and the second,which acknowledges the fact that wind farms can lie dormant when the wind dies, and is the more surprising one, which flies in the face of the wind power fanatics, who normally suffer selective blindness when this point is raised, dismiss it as unimportant and irrelevant, and move on swiftly.
We may still be surprised, and see a properly integrated approach that combines the best of all, instead of the the “favoured one”.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I commented on the dismal response to so-called green or renewable energy by the folk who should have known better, when they broadly hinted that all the opportunities for power generation using water in Scotland had been largely exploited in the early years of the various large, and small, hydro-electric power generation projects. A few years ago, I’d say they were all but dismissing it.
Far be it from me to whisper the word “conspiracy”, rather I will describe as “interesting” the way that recent months have seen increasing numbers of announcements in the news of little hydro power schemes in the hills of Scotland, and (by comparison with past) near frantic activity in offshore and tidal power schemes. I may be wrong, but this interest in things watery and out of the way seems to have grown at almost the same rate as public hostility to new and existing wind farm proposals on land, especially by the people who live on and around that land. I must be imagining this of course, or am just plain delusional.
Back in the real world, a hydro power scheme at Chonais in the northwest Highlands has been approved by the Scottish Government, and is rated at 3.5 MW, claimed to be sufficient to power some 2,000 homes. The project will be carried out by SSE Generation, part of Scottish and Southern Energy.
It may not be huge, but I see another hydro power station has been granted a licence, near Crianlarich.
The 2.5 MW station will be powered by the Allt Coire Chaorach, with the licence being conditional on the incorporation of measures to mitigate any effects the installation may have on the ecology of the Allt Chaorach, which is populated by salmon, and is also a tributary of the River Dochart, a part of the Tay Special Area of Conservation, and follows consultation with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Fisheries Committee and the Tay District Salmon Fishery Board.
Operated by Scottish and Southern Energy, the station will be able to supply power to some 1,700 homes
The Scottish Government has set a target to meet 50% of electricity demand from renewables by 2020, and an interim target of 31%.
Including this scheme, it is reported that 26 schemes licensed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) since April 2006 (when any abstraction from the water environment must be sanctioned by them) are proving power to some 91,000 Scottish homes
Over what seems little more than a few months, I am somewhat amazed to see that I have gone from being thought of as some kind of “nut” because I was considered to speak against wind power and in favour of water based energy production. I didn’t really, if anyone bothered to read on, I just cautioned against its seemingly universal acceptance as the solution to renewable energy. Now, it seem that the news carries stories about wonderful new major sea and river based energy projects, and wind power has been relegated to some sort of planning pariah as it encroaches on the countryside, destroys peoples’ lives and peace, and places air travel in danger as the turbines interfere with civilian and military radar. Oh, and it kills birds.
Not my words, you’ll find all that in the news – it seems that the wind power bubble may have burst, and water based power is the media darling, for the moment. Maybe I should now predict that nuclear power will be their next darling in a few years, when they eventually decide to put the boot into water based systems, and that nuclear is safe. The Marine Conservation Society already has the underwater system in its sights, challenging Scottish Power’s assertion that their systems will pose no threats to marine life, and seeking rigorous environmental impact assessments.
It looks as if I might not be the “nut” now though, as Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, suffers something of a delusional attack while visiting Caithness as the Crown Estate opens the seabed for lease when said the firth could be seen as “the Saudi Arabia of marine energy”. I’m afraid a quick look at the map suggests that might just be slight overstatement – but then again, politicians are reputed to be quite good at that, aren’t they?
As noted in here before, Scottish Power has been working on the Lanstrom device, which is said to be the world’s most advanced tidal turbine. The Scottish and Irish sites would host up to 60 of the turbines – 20 at each site – generating 60 megawatts of power for up to 40,000 homes.The company is expected to apply for planning permission next year. The device, similar to an underwater wind turbine, has been tested in a Norwegian fjord.
The director of Scottish Power’s renewable arm, Keith Anderson, said: “The rapid technological advancement of tidal power has enabled us to progress plans for this substantial project which has the real potential to deliver significant environmental and economic benefits.”
Speaking during his visit to Caithness, Mr Salmond said opening the firth for energy generation on a commercial scale was “exciting news” for Scotland’s renewables sector, environment and economy. These developments are a significant step forward in Scotland’s journey to become a world leader in the development of renewable energy. The Pentland Firth is the Saudi Arabia of marine power. Our seas alone could provide 25% of Europe’s tidal power and 10% of wave power. The vast potential of the Pentland Firth will mean more investment, more jobs and more opportunities for the Caithness area.”
(Those are impressive numbers, which have been quoted in the news before, by the politicians, but they’ve yet to justify them, and they might be similar in terms of “smoke and mirrors” to the wonderful claims that were made for wind power, but turn out to be ideal numbers, which tumble to a fraction of their oft-quoted values when applied to real world installations.)
Eann Sinclair, of Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, said: “Proposals are under way for projects such as the Pentland Firth Tidal Energy project and the development of Scrabster and Wick Harbours, as well as the creation of new jobs in the engineering sector.”
With the decommissioning of the old Dounreay nuclear power station, the area is looking to the future and local employment, although there will still be many years of employment to come from from the decommissioning project itself before work on the old site dries up altogether.
I’ve banged on in here for a while (and probably still will) about water-based power, lamenting the endless worship of the holy god of wind power, and how anyone serious about renewable or alternative energy production had better start looking elsewhere or we’ll be up a river – or all at sea – without a paddle when the wind money (or supply of acceptable sites) dries up, or realisation dawns that while it is certainly not a dead dog (I’ve never said that, and never would), it is not the magical answer to renewables that some would have them believe.
The Scottish Government’s target is to produce 50% of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2020, and that won’t happen without a balanced or integrated approach.
Ambling through the headlines over the past few weeks, it’s been gratifying to note a steady increase – at last – of schemes looking towards the wet stuff as a source of power, and I’ve mentioned quite a few in here recently.
I also postulated the need to look at smaller hydro-schemes since all the large, prime sites had already been used in the past decades. A comment I made just before those in a position to do something about it made a public announcement to the same effect – thank goodness I published first, a few posts back.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the momentum of the past few weeks is continuing, and that plans to build a new hydro-electric station in Highland Perthshire have just been given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government. The 2 MW Keltney Burn scheme near Aberfeldy is a ‘run-of-river’ project, which means it will use its elevation and natural flow to generate electricity, and is described as being able to produce enough energy to power 1,300 homes.
Energy Minister Jim Mather said: “This is a tangible demonstration that new hydro power has a bright future in Scotland. We need to harness all of Scotland’s diverse renewables potential, and provided schemes operate in harmony with the environment, we will continue to support hydro development – large or small – to help tackle climate change and contribute to sustainable economic growth.”
(Here’s hoping that’s not forgotten when folk go looking for development cash).
North Tayside MSP John Swinney added: “I am delighted to hear that this project has been given the go-ahead. This is a project that will benefit the local area. This decision has been a long time coming, but now that it has been approved, I hope that it will get up and running to make a difference to surrounding communities.”
A few years ago I was jeered and mocked whenever I spoke about the subsidies handed out to attract wind power or wind farm developers into the industry. Those with their snouts in the trough went to great pains to show their balance sheets, and ask for the line where the supposed subsidy appeared. Of course, there was no such line, because the funds were disguised as various grants and awards, incentives, and of course, those tradeable certificates which the operator gets for producing nice, green, low-carbon energy.
Even though it we’re now told it produces the wrong kind of wind turbine, in the wrong place, the prospective closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory at Machrihanish received at least £16 million in grants to allow it to open in 2002, and only six years later Vestas want to close it and leave. Will they be asked for the £16 million that has allowed them to operate what we must assume was a profitable operation for those six years?
A little later, I had to put up with the same jeering an mocking when I expressed the opinion that the mad march of wind farms across Scotland was fuelled more by worship of wind power and the financial incentives associated with it (see, I avoided the use of the subsidy word this time, I’m learning). When I suggested that this was unnecessary (and pointed out that the number of stalled wind farm projects was growing as residents cried “Enough!” and had them referred for planning permission), I was virtually threatened with being locked up when I went on to suggest that water-based generation systems were the future, be those systems hydro-electric on land, or sea based in the form of wave or tidal schemes, or offshore wind farms.
There’s been a distinct change in recent times, and some of the more notable hydro schemes have been featured in here as they were announced. Some are development, some are new ideas, and others are pilots for larger schemes due to be installed in the future.
I’m now thinking it would be nice to be in the investment side of the hydro power generation system, because far from being a candidate for being carried off and locked up by the nice men in white coats, it looks as if the hydro side of renewable energy is heading towards the same financial harvest that wind power produced when it was the “Golden Boy” of renewables.
BBC Scotland has reported that it understands that the sections of the sea bed around Scotland are to be leased to developers who want to generate tidal electricity. It notes that the Crown Estate, which owns the sea bed, is expected to begin the leasing process within weeks.
Listen to BBC news item.
A quarter of Europe’s marine energy potential is believed to lie around Scotland’s shores, and it is hoped that 1 GW of marine power will be delivered to the national grid by 2020 as part of the UK’s renewable energy strategy.
Still, little publicity has ever been given to the wind turbines that have exploded or burst into flames, and collapsed – no doubt bad news is never wanted where investment is being sought, and they’re usually in isolated places, so with little threat to life or limb, the news has little reason to include the pics.
However, hydro power is much younger and more experimental. The very reason I predicted that it would come to the fore ahead of wind power makes it a much more dangerous and risky proposition. The density of air at sea level is about 1.2 kg/m³ (1.2 g/L), while water comes in at 998 kg/m³, or one tonne per cubic metre in plain English – almost the kerb weight of a BMW Mini (a real Mini was barely 700 kg). That’s why you need so many big wind turbines over a large area to get anything like a worthwhile return. Water’s much higher density means the energy it carries is correspondingly higher for the same volume, however this is also the sting in the tail, since it means the danger of damage when there is severe weather rises in the same way.
That said, proper, responsible design and development that takes account of the danger should allow for this.
However, now that the Government has seen fit to cash in on its opportunity to make some green £ from its fortuitous stewardship of the sea bed around the country, we must now be moving into a phase where the increasing cost of energy has made this an area where investment and profit are going to be harvested, as well as the odd green kWh.
And, before anyone cares to comment that I’m a cynic, I’ll save them the trouble and say yes, I am being openly cynical and observing that no-one was interested in marine/hydro while wind was attracting all the grants and the like. Now that that pot’s empty, the next one is marked water, and everyone is eyeing it up as the public turns against wind farms.
Yesterday, in the post that immediately precedes this one, I noted that the first large-scale hydro-electric project since 1957, the £140 million Glendoe hydro power scheme near Fort Augustus had its first sluice gate closed by First Minister Alex Salmond today (September 1, 2008), signalling the start to the filling of the scheme’s dam.
I concluded that post by saying:
With increasing environmental awareness, and the loss of land to the dams and reservoirs such schemes demand, it’s much more difficult to find a site that meets all the criteria of terrain that is both suitable for damming to create a reservoir that will hold sufficient water at the required elevation, and is acceptable in terms of the losses that will be incurred as a result of the consequent flooding.
This thought is confirmed by Scottish and Southern Energy, which has said it considers Glendoe to be the last large scale hydro power scheme that will ever be built in the UK as environmental constraints makes it harder to find suitable land for such developments to be created in the future.
Maybe a signal that the last scheme of this size (100 MW) has been built, but perhaps the future will see more serious consideration being given to smaller schemes that can provide local power without the impact associated with the grander constructions of the past.
Today, the Forum for Renewable Energy Development said an extra 650MW of hydro power could be produced by hundreds of small projects. That would be enough to power about 600,000 homes, and is about half the amount of installed hydro capacity which already exists in Scotland. With its ambitious scheme to see Scotland generate 50% of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, the Scottish Government was quick to jump on this, and say hydro was vital to meeting green energy targets
Installed hydro-electric capacity in Scotland is already 1,379 MW, said to be 6% of the country’s total electricity requirement.
Report author Nick Forrest, a director of consultants Nick Forrest Associates, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that although Scotland had greater potential for wind power, hydro had the benefit of not having the visual impact of wind farms, and was more reliable as a source of energy.
That’s almost a word-for-word quote of what I wrote yesterday – where’s my cheque? 🙂
Funny, when I say say that everyone shakes their head and says “tut-tut”, and someone calls the men in white coats – as if I’m some sort of mad heretic refusing to worship at the altar of the holy god of wind power.
Following on almost exactly from my advice, he went on to say:
We are talking about enough to power perhaps 600,000 houses – more than enough to power Edinburgh, say, so it is a lot. This is not talking about flooding gigantic valleys like the Three Gorges project in China, it is not looking at more Glendoe projects, this is starting from the ground up, what we call small hydro.It tends to be up to 10MW, so you do not need to flood a valley. In some cases the model did look at storage schemes, but most of these are what we call run of river – you would be using a weir and relying on the fall of the water down a hillside, so the impact can be very, very minimal.
The Scottish Government has set a target of generating 50% of the country’s electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, with a target of 31% by 2011.
Welcoming the report, David Williams, chief executive of the British Hydropower Association, said: “Hydropower has long been the “quiet” renewable and this will stimulate development of new projects of all sizes in a country which has already embraced the benign and significant role of this technology.”
I’m only kidding about the cheque, of course (but it would be a nice surprise) however, it does go towards proving the old saying that It’s not what you know, but who you know.