I agree with James Sandison that there are no easy options regarding energy production – and I sympathise with Peter Dixon’s pronouncements (comments) on “unlimited” economic growth.
I take heart, however, from what Søren Harmensen of the Danish island of Samsø said in 2010 at an enlightening meeting about renewable energy, held in Scalloway (and I paraphrase):
1. “Think local, act local.”
2. “Don’t get into bed with big (energy) companies.”
So to Mr Sandison I would say, regarding biomass: in Shetland a regrettably tiny percentage of agricultural land is now used for human food production.
There are actually moves afoot now in Shetland to test whether biomass is viable for heat energy production. Proposed trials would not even impact on currently arable ground.
If successful, the outcome of these trials could reduce carbon emissions, provide income to crofters, help reduce fuel poverty and increase biodiversity. And there could still be room for increased food production on potentially arable land.
I wouldn’t dare suggest that this should be globally applied at the expense of food production, and of any other form of renewable energy, but in the local context of land use, is it not worth considering? And even at a global level, some biomass could be grown in areas which are not suitable for food production.
Big energy companies are currently only interested in large, propeller-driven wind turbines for renewable energy, as is Viking Energy and, up to now, Shetland Charitable Trust, Shetland Islands Council and other potential investors.
There is also an assumption that an interconnector cable (or possibly even two) is (are) necessary in order to “capitalise” on our natural resources. (Each cable apparently requires a track across land in the order of 20 metres width.)
There appears now, however, to be quite a revolutionary way of capturing wind energy, as has been shown in the press recently: www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_EconomyEnergyandTourismCommittee/Inquiries/Trewavas_Prof_Tony.pdf.
I believe that there is now the opportunity to consider applying this new technology to our own distinct environment, perhaps without having to rely on expensive and industrial-sized converter stations and cables to export power to the UK mainland. There may also be an opportunity for local engineering firms to develop this technology.
This should not be considered alone, however, but in conjunction with other renewable resources and energy saving initiatives, and an upgraded local electricity distribution network*.
We are sadly lacking an integrated energy strategy (which includes food production) for Shetland.
The millions of pounds that would apparently be pouring into our coffers from the Viking windfarm might not be forthcoming (would they anyway?), but are we, by embracing that option, just blindly pursuing an unsustainable perceived lifestyle?
Perhaps it’s worth remembering, in this respect, that wealth is one thing, but how it is distributed is quite another. There are plenty of losers in our society. And to come back to Peter Dixon, there may well continue to be more losers, locally, nationally and internationally, if we pursue unlimited economic growth, and its energy requirements, whether renewable or not.
*In 2004 a Scottish Parliament briefing paper was prepared, which stated:
“Embedded energy generation is often used to power local networks, such as in Shetland, where, in the light of planned commercial renewable energy developments, and in the absence of an inter-connector cable to the mainland, embedded generation offers the only means of establishing new renewable energy schemes on the island. Examples of the opportunities that exist for embedded generation are renewable energy schemes which aim to meet the power requirements of schools, leisure centres, industrial estates, commercial premises or even single domestic properties. Such embedded generation systems can extract a higher return from the sale of electricity to their dedicated customers than from the sale of a limited amount of power to the Shetland grid … The construction of new embedded generators will necessitate a local upgrade of the distribution network. This process is not difficult technically, involving the ‘restringing’ or ‘reconductoring’ of wooden poles and/or the introduction of new distribution lines; it does however incur significant cost.” See page seven of www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/research/briefings-04/sb04-07.pdf.