FOSSIL fuel power generation has soared as wind power flagged leading to concerns over whether renewable energy can replace oil and gas to keep the lights on in the nation’s homes in the medium term.
There are concerns that weak winds this year has helped fuel rising energy prices, and exposed the nation’s reliance on ‘intermittent’ renewables.
It comes as energy chiefs have warned that Britain faces tighter electricity supplies over winter as gas prices hit record highs leading to fear about more hikes in household bills to 1.5m Scots households.
The price of UK gas has hit its highest level ever, rising by 37% in one day last week with high demand and reduced power supply behind the surge.
According to the World Climate Service June and July 2021 was the least windy period since at least 1960 in parts of Ireland, the UK, and the North Sea.
And it said for the year to date, Scotland’s area-average wind speed has been 12% below the 1991-2020 norm implying a more than 30% reduction in output from the UK’s 11,000 wind turbines over the nine-month period of this year.
The Herald on Sunday can reveal that a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy analysis shows renewable power generation for April to June 2021 fell 9.6% on the same period last year driven by a 14 per cent drop in wind generation because of lower average gusts, which were substantially below the 10-year averages.
That resulted in a 36% rise in fossil fuel power generation over the same period to meet increased demand.
The share of fossil fuel power generation consequently rose by 8.9 percentage points to 43.4 per cent, whilst the renewable generation share fell to 37.3 per cent caused by “lower wind speeds and fewer sun hours”. It also showed that the amount of renewable electricity generation was at its lowest for two years.
The analysis also indicated issues with maintenance at several wind farms.
According to trade body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) between January and March this year, the UK had to import 56 per cent of the gas that was required to keep the nation’s homes and power stations running.
And the industry, which supports 200,000 UK jobs – half of which are in Scotland – was ready to invest £21bn over the next five years into exploration and production.
It comes amidst an enduring water scarcity alert in Scotland with some parts of the country needing double the “normal” amount of autumn rainfall to return water reservoirs levels to what they should be at this time of the year.
Some experts say water shortages caused by climate change could threaten the function of hydropower facilities and even the nation’s world-famous whisky industry.
Dr Sarah Halliday, from the University’s Geography and Environmental Science department who last week hosted an online panel on how climate change is hitting water supplies said the way to change course is by taking strong action to tackle “a warming planet”.
In July, over half the month’s rainfall fell in one hour, leading to significant flash flooding in Edinburgh.
This was despite the summer of 2021 being the fourth hottest summer since records began with reservoirs dropping to their lowest in 18 years.
Despite the splurges of rainfall, the consequence is that significant areas of Scotland are experiencing moderate water scarcity now.
Scottish Water said maintaining some public water supplies remained a “significant challenge” after the second driest summer in 160 years.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) last week said above average rainfall is required to see long-term recovery as a “significant rainfall deficit” has built up over the summer.
Scots ministers have already been criticised for a failure over its 2020 ‘green capital of Europe’ revolution which has produced as little as five per cent of the low carbon jobs it forecast.
While the Scottish Government was predicting 11 years ago that there would be 28,000 Scottish jobs in the offshore wind industry alone by 2020 as the nation takes advantage of its benefits – latest workforce data for 2019 showed it stood at just 1400.
Onshore wind’s share of total electricity generation has in the past year from 10.9 per cent to 8.6 per cent between April and June, while offshore wind has dipped from 9.1% to 7.3%. Both have slipped behind bioenergy – which is generated from organic matter – as the leading renewable technology.
But even bioenergy’s share of electricity generation fell, down 1.3 percentage points as generation from landfill gas, sewage, anaerobic digestion and plant biomass dipped.
The Scottish Government has committed £500 million as part of a “just transition” away from oil and gas production over the next 10 years. The commitment looks to build Scotland’s future as Europe’s renewable energy powerhouse.
Scottish Conservatives’ shadow cabinet secretary for the Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Liam Kerr said that the latest events show that the nation cannot turn its back on oil and gas.
The former deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives highlighted that the UK still requires oil for manufacturing of products and also needs gas for the production of energy.
But MSPs at the Scottish Parliament rejected the north east Scotland MSP’s call for backing more North Sea oil and gas projects last month.
“It is crucial there’s a fair transition for the oil and gas industry, to safeguard jobs and ensure Scotland is able to meet present and future energy demands,” he said.
“We are not at a stage where renewables can supply all our energy needs, to keep the lights on in our homes, hospitals, schools and factories.
“Even by 2050 half of UK energy demand will still need to be met by oil and gas, a fact that has been lost on the SNP-Green coalition.
“The SNP-Green coalition’s blinkered view of the domestic oil and gas industry will only mean that we will have to import more than we already do.
“Data shows this will be more damaging environmentally, with regulatory regimes less stringent than our own and require resources that have around twice the carbon footprint of domestic supply.
“It could also potentially lead to higher costs for the consumer.”
Dr Halliday said hydropower schemes and whisky distilleries, whose abstraction consents are linked not only to the quantity of water in our rivers but also its temperature, could be disrupted by water shortages caused by climate change.
And she said reduced rainfall and higher temperatures result in increased need for crop irrigation, exacerbating water shortages, and pose a threat to the viability of many of our traditional crops.
“We are running out of time to protect our water resources,” she said.
It comes as evidence has emerged pointing to issues with the access to the transmission grid and the charges seen as a barrier to renewable energy development.
In Scotland developers must pay to connect to the grid, whereas in Wales developers are paid to connect.
There are calls for the grid to be reinforced and expanded to ensure that renewable energy generated in Scotland can connect to it and benefit the rest of the UK.
Professor David Ingram, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering says that there are issues surrounding the existing power transmission grid being designed to take power from coal fields and export it to London and Birmingham.
In an analysis he has said that the existing network of power stations, transmission lines, and substations is “weak” with “limited capacity in many peripheral areas” where there are significant renewable resources.
He said this was especially true of Scottish islands where submarine cables are used. He said that weak, lower voltage cables lose more energy than stronger, higher voltage, cables, which is why 400kV cables are preferred for long distance transmission.
He warned that rapid growth in renewables means transmission grid reinforcements is required “in many areas”.
“Without reinforcement it can be difficult or impossible for a renewable energy project to gain consent for a grid connection. Even with a connection, production may be curtailed due to insufficient grid capacity,” he said.
One problem area was the reinforcement of the grid connection to Orkney.
The islands are currently connected to the Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks by a distribution network operating at 33kV. The two submarine cables were installed in 1982 and 1998, crossing the Pentland Firth between Thurso and Hoy.
Her said the cables have a capacity of 40MW and were designed to export power to Orkney from the Scottish Grid but it is “insufficient capacity to enable the on and offshore wind and tidal energy potential of the islands to be exploited.
And he warned in a briefing to MPs that it is low enough that many generators must be switched off when they could be operating at maximum efficiency. “Given that many of these connected turbines are community owned this has an unacceptable impact on communities who rely on electricity and fuel oil for heating,” he said.
In 2019 Ofgem finally gave conditional approval for an Orkney electricity transmission project that will see a 220MW transmission link between mainland Britain and Orkney. But Ofgem have stated they must be satisfied by December 2021 that generation projects totalling 135MW must either have been awarded a Contract for Difference (CfD) or are likely to proceed despite not getting the award.
The CfC scheme which has been running since 2015, is the main way the UK Government supports the development of low-carbon electricity generation and is awarded to those developers who price their renewable energy developments at the lowest possible cost. Over a third of projects supported by CfD are in Scotland.
Projects without a CfD must demonstrate to external audit that they are financially viable, have a grid connection agreement and have been granted planning permission.
But Professor Ingram said the conditions are “extremely onerous” and in the case of Orkney was based on a need to ensure ‘GB consumers were appropriately protected from the risks and costs associated with building an underutilised transmission link’.”
It was a surge of more than 50% in wholesale fuel costs over six months with gas prices hitting a record high which led to Scots households seeing their energy bills soar by up to £139 a year from this month.
The high price of wholesale gas has put nine British energy suppliers out of business in the last month alone as price caps overseen by regulator Ofgem prevent the full effect of wholesale prices being passed on to consumers.
Credit rating agency Moody’s has predicted that the surge in wholesale prices will result in more energy suppliers going bust.