Comments by Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, were a highlight of my fascinating introduction to RPAG – Renewable Power at Scale, this week. With 206 GW of offshore renewable energy potential (wind and marine), despite it’s small size, Scotland has 25% of Europe’s wind power potential and 25% of its tidal resource potential.
Keep in mind, this is place with an average total demand of 6 GW of power, and already has almost that much in wind power under consent or in development, primarily offshore. Part of a targeted 7,000 offshore wind turbine rollout in process around the British Isles over the next decade. These are numbers that both in aggregate and relative size to their grid dwarf the last decade of renewables. Already a net exporter of power, Scotland is basically planning on meeting the UK renewables requirements all by its lonesome, and export power across the Continent as well, if the proposed North Sea SuperGrid ever gets built.
This renewables push anchors the Scotland and UK climate change planning, with Scotland targeting 80% renewables by 2020, 31% by 2011 (11% hydro, the rest offshore wind). It was at 25% in 2008. This compares to UK overall 32% renewable by 2020, currently at 6%.
The next couple offshore wind development licensing rounds in the UK and Scotland total numbers in the like 50 GW range. It took me several presentations on the subject before I was comfortable typing a number that large, as it boggles the mind.
However, and it’s a big however – the industry has a long way to go. Three key challenges, which will not be a surprise to any renewables industry aficionado:
- There currently isn’t anywhere near the grid required: either in offshore infrastructure to reach the locations, nor in modern onshore grid capable of accepting and exporting power from offshore.
- Once T&D is solved, the industry to deliver this scale needs to go to deeper waters, bigger and lighter turbines, and a roll-out speed approaching call it 5-10 turbine installs offshore per week within a few years, and no part of the supply chain is yet ready to handle that.
- And finally, export market integration. If places like Scotland are going to be the Saudi Arabia of renewable electricity, the markets have to be open to cross-border trade and export. For example, assuming it has T&D lines to get it there, and a supply chain to build it, can a Scottish wind farm sell renewable power to pick you favorite EU country and meet their RPS requirements? Currently, that just ain’t happening. No open power markets in Europe outside of the UK means no real cross-border market for renewable electricity.
But, it’s hard to utter anything other than OMG, as the number of roll-outs todate, the amount of development resource in process, and headlong sprint in the supply chain compared to 5-10 years ago, means the potential for offshore wind to deliver RPAG within this decade is really, really awesome.