A report* just published by the UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Scottish government identifies significant potential for the development of wind, wave and tidal renewable resources on the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. However, it warns that further development on any scale on the Scottish Islands is not likely to proceed without changes in costs or support levels, and greater certainty on the timing of the required transmission links.  Without these changes, the opportunity to establish Great Britain as a world leader in marine renewables could be lost.

Baringa Partners and consultants TNEI were commissioned by DECC and the Scottish government to assess whether Scottish Island renewables could make a cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets, and to determine whether additional measures would be required to bring these projects forward. The report found that of a total practical resource potential in excess of 80 TWh/yr (around 20 % of current total electricity demand in Great Britain), of which 4 TWh could be developed by 2020, and around 18.5 TWh by 2030 with the appropriate policy and regulatory support.

"Our analysis suggests the additional costs of connecting the Scottish Islands to the grid would outweigh the benefits associated with the windier conditions, meaning that development of onshore wind on the islands will remain more expensive than on the mainland," said Duncan Sinclair of Baringa Partners. "However, onshore wind on the Scottish Islands can still be cheaper in many cases than offshore wind and therefore there is potentially a strong case for its development in the Scottish Islands over the longer term."

The potential for marine renewables, from wave and tidal resources, is potentially even greater, with Orkney a particular focus for development given the number of offshore leases granted by The Crown Estate, and the establishment of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney waters.  The report highlights that the lack of available grid capacity will soon become a limiting factor on the expansion of this sector.

"What is required for renewables to take off on the Scottish Islands are large anchor projects to justify the new transmission cables with enough spare transmission capacity to allow smaller schemes, including wave and tidal project, to connect to the grid.  There are projects ready to go but additional policy responses are required before capital will be committed.’

*The full report ‘Scottish Islands Renewable Project’ is available from the DECC website <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/progress-on-scottish-islands-renewables-project>