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BLOG: Arctic opportunities

Posted on 03/01/2018 by Nick Sharpe

The single biggest factor in the success of our renewables industry is not about technology or market mechanisms, it’s about the virtues of the little bit of space Scotland occupies on the face of the earth.

Our physical positioning dictates our winds, our tides, our rainfall and our daylight hours.

Renewable energy is, of course, founded on these natural resources – intrinsic to what piece of the earth falls within our lines on a map.

Our geography, particularly as an island nation, led us to play crucial roles in the industrial revolution and British Empire – giving us the infrastructure (think ports and railways) and capabilities like engineering expertise that have helped our general economy, but the renewable energy industry too, to thrive.

That same geography, though, provides considerable challenges.

We have dense urban centres, with growing populations, high energy demand and little available land.

We have remote islands – sparsely populated and poorly connected, but with exceptional resource.

The list, of course, goes on.

These are problems not just for Scotland, but for other places around the world with similar topographies. 

The 7,000 islands that constitute the Philippines present all too familiar infrastructure challenges, as do island communities from Greece to Grenada.

And it’s not just about islands – smart grid initiatives are bearing fruit here in Scotland, as well as across remote communities in Africa and Asia.

Cumbernauld is as central to the development of smart electricity networks as California.

The map-drawing countries of the world, perhaps naturally, put themselves at the centre.

Old European trading maps vastly inflate the continent’s scale; and China, after all, means the ‘Middle Kingdom’.

Scotland too has put itself at the centre – looking to our continental neighbours for trade, and supporting the ‘special relationship’ with Americans and Canadians across the Atlantic.

Moving the map, though, could highlight additional opportunities gifted by our geography.

Pan up, and focus the centre of the map instead on the North Pole.

Scotland immediately takes on a different position – as one of the countries on the periphery of the Arctic Circle.

Though diverse, this concert of territories, from Russia to the Faroes, America to Norway – shares numerous challenges, and with them, opportunities.

Scotland fits in well on a number of fronts, but climate and energy initiatives provide a particularly neat link.

Scotland is already collaborating with Arctic Nations on a variety of energy projects.

Norwegian energy giant Statoil has built the world’s first floating offshore wind farm in Scotland, kick-starting an industry with global promise.

Swedish utility Vattenfall is the key player in the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, Scotland’s largest offshore wind test and demonstration facility.

The EU-funded WISE project brings together Scotland, Denmark and other Baltic regions to look at community engagement with onshore wind, while Glasgow is collaborating with Riga and Gothenburg in the STEP UP project, focussed on energy planning.

Scottish Renewables members are already seizing the opportunities to lend their expertise to address the common challenges we face with Arctic Nations.

EWT, for example, has carried out a number of projects in Alaska.

With specialised cold climate kit, including active de-icing, they have installed wind turbines in some of the harshest conditions on earth.

The introduction of renewables to displace diesel generation there has had a hugely positive impact – not only in terms of their environment, but economically too, saving communities around $730,000 a year (as well as 280,000 gallons of diesel).

These themes came across strongly at the 2017 Arctic Assembly, held by the Scottish Government and numerous partners from the region in October.

At the time, and shortly after the Scottish Government launched a Policy Statement for the region, the First Minister said:

“Countries around the world are dealing with the challenge of how to support a successful and dynamic economy while also building a fair and inclusive society. As Scotland seeks to achieve this aim, we have – and will continue to – look north for inspiration.”

Former President of Iceland and Arctic Circle Chairman Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson added:

“The new Arctic neighbourhood needs Scotland. Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. In addressing it, it's important that Scotland's expertise is involved. The economic future of Scotland can in turn benefit from new opportunities in air and sea transport and the development of marine and tourism links.”

The Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy clearly signals the economic importance of renewables to the country’s economy and sets ambitious targets for the industry at home.

As we work to meet these ambitious climate and energy targets, and Brexit undoubtedly changes our political landscape, looking North could provide some new opportunities for the renewable energy sector.

Pic: Google

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications