Bidwells has been a key facilitator in renewable energy projects for over two decades, working for landowners and developers across the UK on projects from the Cambridge Fens to the Shetland Isles.
Things have changed over this twenty-year period. The first commercial wind farm we were involved with had 36 turbines and a capacity of 21MW. Many of the schemes we are working on today generate well over 100MW from fewer, far larger turbines. While we initially focused on large scale on-shore wind projects, our work now embraces both existing and advancing technologies. Hydro projects, commercial solar leases, single wind turbine schemes, anaerobic digestion plants, major grid infrastructure upgrades and even battery storage projects are within our remit.
The shifting focus of energy policy
In the last few years, worldwide concern about climate change – and the resulting various European and international agreements – have driven the UK’s energy policy and, specifically, the desire to
de-carbonise. Renewable electricity developers have been encouraged to deliver projects of a sufficient size and scale by various Government initiatives, including the Renewables Obligation (RO), Feed in Tariff (FiT) and, more recently, the Contract for Difference.
This policy has at least been partly successful. In the UK, in 2016 25% of electricity was generated from renewables and in Scotland this figure was over 50%. Over the past decade, renewable energy deployed in Scotland has increased from 2.7 GW to approximately 8 GW.
However, the UK Government has created market uncertainty by introducing sweeping changes to the subsidy regime for renewables, with no more money being made available for established technologies, at least in the short term. Nevertheless, there are still projects with potential, where there is good resource and considered site design.
The first commercial wind farm we were involved with had 30-plus turbines and a capacity of 21MW. Today’s schemes generate well over 100MW from fewer, far larger turbines.
Looking ahead – UK
Current UK Government energy policy intends to phase out coal-fired power stations and increase gas-powered generation, with an emphasis on value to the consumer. Nuclear will also be part of the energy mix now that the Government has committed to the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station. Gas to grid and battery storage is likely to become increasingly important to ensure the UK
can meet energy demands, and is something we are spending considerable time on for our clients.
While we expect there will be a slowdown in new anaerobic digestion projects producing electricity, due to changes to the FiT, the response to the Renewable Heat Incentive consultation has been much more positive in the support for biomethane anaerobic digestion.
Solar (and other renewables) projects can still be viable in specific locations, especially when co-located next to large energy users to displace high energy costs.
Looking ahead - Scotland
In early 2017 the Scottish Government launched a consultation on Scotland’s Energy Strategy. It takes a ‘whole system’ approach to meet ambitious renewable energy targets with emphasis on the social and environmental benefits of moving to a low carbon economy. There is focus on community involvement, including ownership of energy projects.
Any new strategy needs to provide clarity on the balance of visual impact against energy generation. Allowing larger, more efficient turbines to be deployed in the right locations could mean that, by 2020, on-shore wind could become the cheapest form of electricity generation. What’s more, re-powering existing, older sites with larger modern turbines will increase capacity further. If we are moving to a no-subsidy regime, every site must work at its most efficient. This will most likely be delivered if a clear strategic approach is taken to planning Scotland’s renewable energy infrastructure.
International Energy Targets
The Scottish Government has set a much more ambitious target of 100% electricity to come from renewables by 2020
To meet the EU Renewable Energy Directive the UK is aiming for 30% of electricity to come from renewables by 2020
The Paris Climate Agreement – the world’s first comprehensive climate change agreement – aims to keep temperature rises below 2°C