Scotland is not just windy

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Cruachan Power Station – The Hollow Mountain. Photo: Getty.

The recent closure of Scotland’s last coal-fired power producer, Longannet, is a day of both despondency and jubilation.

It was a sad day for the coal industry, and the over 1000 job losses has made the closure of the Longannet power station a difficult one to stomach.

“Coal has long been the dominant force in Scotland’s electricity generation fleet, but the closure of Longannet signals the end of an era,” said Hugh Finlay, generation director at ScottishPower.

“Longannet has contributed more electricity for the national grid than any other power station in Scotland’s history, and it is a sad day for everyone at ScottishPower,” he added.

There was a time when Scotland was home to a dozen coal companies, before nationalisation in 1946.

Despite being a limited dataset, between 1999 to 2012 coal production in Scotland fell from 8.2 million tonnes to 4.8 million. Meanwhile, the whole of the UK so its production cut by more than 56% from its 1999 figure of 26.3 million tonnes.

The mining industry holds onto it a sense of identity in Scotland: the manual labour heartlands of the central belt, which saw turbulence long before Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister, have long been discussed in history classes throughout Scotland.

However, this break from history is also a step in the right direction, argue Friends of the Earth.

Director Dr Richard Dixon said: “For the first time in at least 115 years there will be no coal being burned to make electricity anywhere in Scotland.

“For a country which virtually invented the industrial revolution, this is a hugely significant step, marking the end of coal and the beginning of the end for fossil fuels in Scotland.”

The next step is towards increasing Scotland’s ability to become reliant on renewable energy, something the Scottish Government wishes to achieve by 2020 – four years away.

This 100% target does not mean full reliance on renewables, rather as contributing to a mix of more environmentally friendly electricity generation.

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Wind most cost-effective source of energy – Ewing. Photo: inhabitat

So far, the country is leading the way in this pursuit, with Scotland have an electricity generation from renewables – to – economic activity ration four times larger than the UK total as of 2012.

In 2014, Scotland generated 49.8% of its electricity from renewable sources, and “boasts” 25% of Europe’s onshore and offshore wind resources.

There is a risk, though, that the importance placed on wind as a source of renewable energy could overshadow other methods.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Energy Minister, has said wind power is the most cost-effective form of renewable energy.

It is not surprising, then, that Wind Towers Scotland and EDF Energy Renewables have penned a 5 year-deal to expand the latter’s five current wind farms in Scotland.

However, wind is fickle, and it is true that current turbines fail to produce energy in winds too low or too high.

Wind is a viable alternative, but it has been said in these down times, Scotland might have to rely on electricity produced in England when demand outstrips supply.

But Scotland already has a method of dealing with peak time shortages: hydropower.

Scotland now has 27 new hydropower plants in the pipeline, which will provide electricity for 42,000 homes.

One of Scotland’s most famous hydroelectric dams at Ben Cruachan has the capacity to power over 200,000 homes at full capacity, so as to support the Grid at peak time.

There are plans to expand the plant in a £400m project by ScottishPower, which will see its generation increase by 400-600MW, and create 800 new jobs.

The problem with hydropower is the immense cost in its initial construction. Furthermore, the length of time to carve out half a mile into a mountainside is considerable.

Sadly, finding a definite monetary average cost of building hydroelectric power plants is difficult, but it is largely agreed the cost is high, but this cost is mitigated by low maintenance and low fuel costs.

The new projects announced by EDF ER to develop their wind farm numbers is welcomed, but other methods of renewable energy should not be forgotten. Scotland has a high potential for other methods of sustainable energy, and these must work in tandem with wind power.

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