Exploring opportunities (James Mackenzie)

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.

James Mackenzie
The Lea,


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • May 9th, 2012 13:05


    An interesting letter, thank you.

    Biomass in Shetland isn’t such a bad idea as long as you can get it to grow and people to buy the stuff – you’ll know more about that than I.

    I have no idea about the costs however it might well be used to generate electricity and heat locally, say, in small high efficiency power plants supplying district and other heating schemes with waste heat.

    I’m pleased you recognise the depradations of biomass planters in poor parts of the world; for those in doubt, here’s a snippet from the redoubtable Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph;-

    “Last November, Prince Charles, as president of WWF UK, flew to Tanzania to hand out “Living Planet” awards to five “community leaders” involved in WWF projects around the delta of the Rufiji River, which holds the world’s largest mangrove forest. Part of their intention has been to halt further damage to the forest by local farmers, who have been clearing it to grow rice and coconuts. This is because the mangroves store unusual amounts of “carbon” (CO2), viewed as the major contributor to global warming. (Another WWF project in the delta is to find a way of measuring just how great a threat release of that CO2 might be.)

    Shortly before the Prince’s arrival, it was revealed that thousands of villagers had been evicted from the forest, their huts in the paddy fields torched and their coconut palms felled. This was carried out by the Tanzanian government’s Forestry and Beekeeping Division, with which WWF has been working. But Stephen Makiri, the head of WWF Tanzania, was quick to insist that WWF had never advocated expelling communities from the delta, and that “the evictions were carried out by government agencies”.”

    In Shetland as you say this would not be a problem and indeed plantations may well afford shelter to other crops

  • James Mackenzie

    • May 15th, 2012 0:08

    Thank you for your considered reply, John.

    I fear that your and my contributions in this particular respect of renewable energy have been forgotten or ignored.

    So it goes, as said Kurt Vonnegurt.


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