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Time to become the Saudi Arabia of Renewables?

According to Scottish Renewables, UK government spending to double energy innovation could deliver a world-leading renewable energy system if £500 million of allotted funds are targeted accurately.

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Here at Precise HQ we’ve never really understood those people who don’t see the beauty in the great whirling white windmills, proudly standing atop hills and in the sea, built to protect the environment. Onshore and off, the reassuring thump as the blades blow round is a constant reminder that it is creating energy from a source that doesn’t cause harm. Nonetheless the voices against wind turbines are loud and debating the pros and cons is a waste of precious time in the race to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The good news is that the constant innovation in the renewable sector is finding solutions to these issues. Take what’s happening at the northeast corner of Scotland, not far from John O’Groat’s. Plunge into the ocean there and you will come across the future site of the world’s largest number of tidal turbines. Instead of standing on top of the waves and waiting for the winds, MeyGen’s 269 turbine project will harness the energy of the sea and aims to be working later this year. Once complete it will generate 400 mW – enough to power 175,000 homes. As Quartz magazine put it, “In the increasingly urgent pursuit of alternatives to fossil fuels, ocean energy is a clean-tech holy grail.”

Part of the beauty of this project is that it is supported by a synergy of the fossil fuel and renewable sectors. Tim Cornelius the CEO of Atlantis Resources says if it wasn’t for the downturn in the oil market this project would never have gotten off the ground – but the people who lost out on oil and gas are benefitting from this. “We feel very positive about it, “ he told Quartz, “Because intuitively it makes sense, it’s coming at exactly the right time, it’s retaining a knowledge base in the UK, driving jobs – it’s making use of an existing supply chain and infrastructure.”

MeyGen is using vessels that Cornelius himself would have used when he was in the oil and gas industry. Now with work drying up, those vessels which would have been out of his price range in the renewable sector, are available. The teams that staff them need work. Their skills in drilling 6000 meters in Brazil make installing turbines in the Pentland Firth a breeze. “Oil and gas guys,” says Cornelius, “are very, very good at finding solutions.”

The other essential element to this has been government support, both for direct investment and through subsidies. While much has been made of the cuts to other areas of the renewables sector, ocean projects have not suffered. The UK leads the world in tidal and wave energy facilities such as the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. But there are other areas it could develop further and a recent announcement could go some way to doing just that.

The UK Government has committed itself to spend £500m on energy innovation over the next five years, and observers say it could deliver a world-leading energy system. In response Scottish Renewables – which wants half of all energy in Scotland to come from green sources by 2030 – published a list of priorities the money could be spent on including storage technologies to enable increased renewable capacity, floating offshore wind to open huge areas of the world’s deepest oceans to green energy generation and systems integration which could save consumers up to £3.5bn a year.

SR is calling for proper development of an innovation strategy to get the most out of every pound spent and “revolutionise the way we produce energy.” Those who get the hump at the sight of a turbine may be pacified by this thought – because it was only through investing in onshore wind that the UK became a world-lead in tidal energy, as decades of study into the former led to technological advances for the latter.