400 megawatt hydro plant planned for Loch Ness

Loch Ness hydro plant

Plans are underway to build a 400MW pumped hydro scheme on the east shore of Loch Ness, capable of powering 400,000 homes.

The energy storage system would take excess electricity generated by wind farms and use it to pump water up to an elevated reservoir. The water can then be released at times of high demand, moving turbines and generating power on its way back down to the loch.

Once completed, the hydro plant will be able to provide 2.4GWh of storage capacity for the grid over a six hour period.

Energy storage has long been a challenge associated with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, which don’t necessarily produce power when demand is highest.

Boost to the local economy

The proposed site is just south of Dores, a small town around 6 miles away from Inverness. The upper reservoir will blend into the natural geographic features from where it gets its name – Red John.

Hydro dam
The new project will join an existing hydro power station. Image source.

Intelligent Land Investments (ILI), the company behind the project, say that it will create jobs for up to 300 people.

Mark Wilson from ILI said: “Pumped storage hydro is the largest and cleanest form of energy storage that currently exists – and a key enabler in helping Scotland meet its green energy ambitions.”

“As well as dramatically improving our energy security, this transformational proposal is a fantastic opportunity for the community to benefit from the energy transition while helping turbo-charge Scotland’s decarbonisation efforts.”

The Red John project will join the existing Foyers hydro-electric power station, also situated on the east shore of Loch Ness.

UK solar growth halves for the second year in a row

rooftop solar panels

The number of new solar power installations in the UK has dropped for the second year in a row, according to a new study published by Solar Power Europe this week.

The decline has been so steep that is has brought the entire EU average down to practically zero, despite several European countries installing record-breaking numbers of panels last year.

  • The UK installed 4.1GW worth of new solar panels in 2015
  • In 2016, the figure was down to just under 2GW
  • Last year, we installed just0.95GW

Lack of government support

The sharp drop has been blamed on government cuts to solar panel subsidies, making them a less attractive financial investment to homeowners and businesses.

The Labour party have called the government’s commitment to green energy “nothing but an empty PR move”, while the chief executive of Solar Power Europe said “Solar power has been voted the most popular energy source in the UK, it is therefore sad to see the UK government not take advantage of the huge potential of solar.”

Energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd challenged the criticism, stating that the cuts were necessary to keep energy bills down “whilst ensuring there is a sensible level of support for low carbon technologies that represent value for money.”

Still a world leader

Despite the recent slow growth, Britain is still ranked sixth internationally in terms of installed solar capacity, and third in Europe behind Germany and Italy. China are now the biggest, with a total of 130GW installed capacity providing 1.07% of the country’s consumption.

Installed solar capacity by country:

Installed solar capacity by country

Ben & Jerry’s offer their support to onshore wind farms

Ben & Jerry's

The Unilever-owned ice cream brand are pressuring the UK government to scrap the obstacles that are preventing more windfarms from being built.

Policy changes and subsidy cuts in recent years have brought onshore windfarm construction to a grinding halt. The ice cream makers, who have a long history of campaigning on environmental issues, are hoping to raise public awareness and force the government into rethinking its renewable energy policies.

They have teamed up with climate change charity 10:10 to launch the ‘Blown Away’ campaign, accompanied by a promotional video:

Public Support

In a poll conducted by 10:10, three quarters of the British public said that they support onshore wind energy. The charity states that despite this, the government are pulling funding away from wind energy and pushing nuclear and fracking instead.

Cecily Spelling, Campaign Manager at 10:10, said “The UK government made a clear commitment to tackle climate change when it signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015, yet they continue to block support for renewables. Public support for renewables is sky high; almost 75% of the public support onshore wind energy, yet the government is choosing to support fossil fuels over renewables. We need to show that, come rain or shine, the British public won’t stand for this!”

Ben & Jerry's
The brand has a long history of campaigning on environmental and social issues. Image source: benjerry.co.uk

Windy Wednesdays

To show their support for the campaign, Ben & Jerry’s have re-branded some of their most popular flavours with wind-themed names, such as “Strawberry Breeze-cake” and “Cherry Gale-cia”. The flavours will be sold at half-price on ‘Windy Wednesdays’.

The company are backing a petition to lift the effective ban on onshore windfarms – you can find more information here.

 

Top image source

North West company launches pioneering ‘liquid air’ energy storage plant

Liquid air energy storage plant

Highview Power has launched a grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, thought to be the first of its kind.

The 5MW facility opened yesterday near Bury, Greater Manchester. The owners claim that with the right funding and support, the system can be up-scaled to hundreds of megawatts in the future.

Supply and demand

Storing electrical energy has been a challenge for engineers for as long as we’ve been using electricity – generally speaking we have to generate electricity as and when we need it, which means that power stations and the national grid have to perform a careful balancing act to make sure demand is always met.

This presents a particular challenge for renewable energy sources – solar power for example can only be generated in during daylight hours, but most demand happens in the evening.

This new system takes excess electricity and uses it to cool and compress air into a liquid state. The liquefied air can be stored indefinitely in large metal tanks. Then, when demand is higher, the liquid air is allowed to heat-up and expands back into a gas, driving turbines and generating electricity. No fuel needs to be burned and no carbon is released into the atmosphere.

This isn’t the first attempt to effectively store electrical energy. Some companies do use large lithium-ion batteries, but they degrade over time and are only suitable for storing energy for a few hours. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is another popular solution, using excess power to pump water up a hill and releasing it to generate hydro-electricity when the demand is present.

Government support

The current plant has the capacity to power 5,000 average size homes for around three hours. Highview have their sights set higher, but they need the support & cooperation of the government and other infrastructure partners.

Highview Power CEO Gareth Brett said, “Support from Government, our partners and our supply chain, has enabled Highview Power to successfully design and build the world’s first grid-scale LAES plant here in the UK. The plant is the only large scale, true long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available today, at acceptable cost. The adoption of LAES technology is now underway, and discussions are progressing with utilities around the world who see the opportunity for LAES to support the transition to a low-carbon world.”

He continued… “the market opportunity for LAES technology is exciting – we estimate that 60% of the global energy storage market comprises long-duration, grid connected storage and that our LAES technology is ready to meet almost half of this (45%).”

Scotland sets new 90% carbon reduction target

Edinburgh

The Scottish government has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050. This exceeds the UK’s overall target of 80%, making it one of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world.

The Climate Change Bill

The Climate Change Bill, which was introduced last week, sets out to cut emissions by 90% compared to 1990 levels. The Scottish government says that the 90% target is “at the very limit of feasibility”, but that they are eager to push the target right up to 100% as soon as realistically possible. At this point the country would achieve “net-zero” emissions – where 100% of the carbon released into the atmosphere is captured or offset.

  • The Scottish government claims that the Climate Change Bill is the toughest and most ambitious in the world
  • Scotland will include a fair share of all international aviation and shipping in its targets
  • The targets will cover all greenhouse gasses – such as methane and nitrogen oxides – not just carbon dioxide
  • As soon as the technology exists to deliver the 100% target, it will be written into law

Scotland’s track-record

Scotland has an impressive track-record when it comes the climate change targets. The country has already reduced emissions by 38% since 1990 – Sweden and Finland are the only industrialised European nations that have done better.

Its unique climate and geology means that Scotland can generate large amounts of renewable energy, particularly from wind and hyrdo. In 2015, renewable sources accounted for over half of Scotland’s electricity consumption.

The Scottish Parliament building

Criticism

Some climate change campaigners have criticised the bill for not being ambitious enough, stating that the 100% target needs to be brought forward in order to meet the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Scottish ministers have pointed out that they took on independent advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change, and that the current target is at the limit of what is feasible right now.

Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said that: “Our climate change bill sets out our commitment to reduce emissions by 100 per cent with ambitious interim targets which strengthen Scotland’s world-leading position on climate change.”

“Our 90 per cent target will be tougher even than the 100 per cent goal set by a handful of other countries, because our legislation will set more demanding, legally-binding, annual targets covering every sector of our economy.”

“By 2030, we will cut emissions by two-thirds and, unlike other nations, we will not use carbon offsetting, where other countries are paid to cut emissions for us, to achieve our goal.”

Tidal power could meet ‘one third of global electricity needs’, says academic study

tidal power

In theory, one third of the world’s electricity needs could be supplied using tidal power, according to a state-of-the-art research paper from Bangor University.

The researchers from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University estimated that 5,792 terawatt hours could be produced by tidal power plants around the world. At present 90% of tidal power projects are located in just 5 countries, with the majority in France and the UK – one of the largest being the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project in South Wales.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project. Image source: tidallagoonpower.com

Tidal power is low carbon and extremely predictable, capturing kinetic energy from rising and falling tides and using it to generate electricity. The British Isles are in an ideal position to harness tidal power, with several areas of high tidal range – the vertical difference between the water level at low and high tide.

Dr Simon Neill, the lead author of the study, explains “tidal lagoons are attracting national and international attention, with the 2017 publication of the government commissioned ‘Hendry Review’, which assessed the economic case for tidal lagoon power plants, and suggested that a ‘Pathfinder’ project in Swansea Bay could be the start of a global industry. Geographically, the UK is in an ideal position, containing many regions of large tidal range as a result of the resonant characteristics of this part of the European shelf seas.”

Tidal power is attractive for many reasons, although it doesn’t come without its challenges – as Dr Sophie Ward explains: “Although tidal lagoons will likely be less intrusive than tidal barrages (which tend to span entire estuaries), they require careful design and planning to minimize the impact on the local environment. With significant global potential for tidal range power plants, we need to closely monitor environmental consequences of extracting energy from the tides, and be cautious of altering natural habitats by building structures and impounding water in lagoons or behind barrages.”

There are several types of tidal power plants – including tidal barrages, tidal lagoons and underwater turbines. Although it has huge potential for generating clean, renewable energy, tidal power is currently lagging behind wind and solar energy due to relatively high setup costs and the limited number of coastal sites where it can be generated.

Watch the short video below to learn more:

Bitcoin uses as much energy as Ireland

Bitcoin

New research has revealed that the virtual currency Bitcoin now uses as much energy as the whole country of Ireland!

The global network of computers involved in running Bitcoin currently consumes an estimated 2.55GW of electricity – and that figure is rising quickly. Ireland on the other hand, with its population of 4.8 million people, uses just over 3GW. These figures were estimated by Alex de Vries, a Dutch economist working for PwC in his paper titled Bitcoin’s growing energy problem.

He points out that the 2.55GW fugure is a conservative estimate, and that the real number is likely to be much higher.

Bitcoin Mining

The global Bitcoin network relies on computers to solve complex mathematical problems; a process known as Bitcoin ‘mining’. The problems become more complex over time, meaning that increasingly powerful computers are needed to solve them – to the point that there are now several companies that specialise in building high-spec PCs designed specifically for Bitcoin mining.

Computers are, of course, notorious for eating up electricity and generating large amounts of heat. Much of the energy used by computers – and large IT facilities such as data centres – is used just for cooling.

An example of an Icarus Bitcoin mining rig. Image source.

Climate Change

The amount of energy used by Bitcoin and other virtual currencies has been a hotly debated topic in recent years, as the industry is becoming a huge carbon producer and a serious threat to climate change.

De Vries estimates that the Bitcoin industry could hit 7.67GW of electricity usage in the near future, making it comparable with countries like Austria in terms of energy use.

Wind power overtakes nuclear for a whole quarter

UK wind farms

For the first 3 months of 2018 the UK’s combined wind farms generated more electricity than its 8 nuclear power stations, setting a new milestone for renewable energy.

Wind power provided 18.8% of the country’s electricity during the first three months of 2018, with only gas power providing more. This is the first time that wind power alone has beaten nuclear – wind and solar combined did overtake nuclear during the final quarter of 2017. This is the latest in a long line of positive steps for cheap electricity from renewable sources.

Western Link

It is thought that the recently built Western Link played a big role in achieving this milestone. The 262-mile long cable connects wind farms in Hunterston, Western Scotland to Connah’s Quay in North Wales, allowing electricity to be efficiently distributed throughout England & Wales as well as Scotland. Before the link was developed, Scottish wind farms often had to shut down as the National Grid couldn’t cope with the excess power.

Emma Pinchbeck, executive director at RenewableUK said “It is great news for everyone that rather than turning turbines off to manage our ageing grid, the new cable instead will make best use of wind energy.”

The UK is a world leader in wind power, with over 8,000 wind turbines in various onshore and offshore locations around the country – the largest being Whitelee Wind Farm in western Scotland, with its 215 turbines and a total capacity of 539MW. As of the beginning of May 2018, UK wind farms had a total capacity of 19.2 gigawatts.

 

Top image: Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm (source).

The shifting trends in global energy use

global energy architecture

The way the world generates its energy is shifting dramatically, as populations grow and demand in developing nations increases. In the 21st century alone global energy demand has almost doubled, creating challenges for governments and energy producers worldwide.

The blogging team at Roof Stores have sifted through the data and created a fascinating infographic that puts the big numbers into perspective and highlights some surprising trends and patterns.

Take a look at the full infographic below and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

global energy architecture infographic

California introduces mandatory solar panels on new homes

Solar panels in California

California has become the first state in the USA to make solar panels compulsory on all new homes and apartment buildings, starting from 2020.

The plan, which still needs approval from the Building Standards Commission, was recently approved by the California Energy Commission in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Existing laws already require that at least 50% of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources.

California is the most populous states in the US, and one of the sunniest. It has already invested over $42m in solar energy, with around 16% of the state’s energy coming from solar last year.

It is estimated that adding solar panels will add around $8,000 – $12,000 to the cost of a new home, as some critics have been quick to point out. However, the California Energy Commission has argued that the extra cost will only add around $40 a month to an average mortgage, and that the panels will save homeowners around $80 per month in electricity bills.

Some homes will be exempt from the new law if installing solar panels is not feasible – for example, homes that are usually in the shade. Existing homeowners will not be forced to get panels, although government rebate programmes are available for those who wish to do so. The new rules would apply to single-family residences and multi-family buildings up to three stories high.

“We cannot let Californians be in homes that are essentially the residential equivalent of gas guzzlers”, said commissioner of the California Energy Commission David Hochschild, describing the new law as a “very bold and visionary step”.