Smart Grid Super Grid

SG_HP_image2As the North Sea wanes, we have an opportunity to replace what will become an increasingly anachronistic oil industry with a clean energy network connected to our peers in Europe – instead of selling barrels of oil, we will be selling power from clean energy sources. Though weather patterns may sometimes be similar across Northern Europe, behavioural patterns and time differences mean there will always be opportunities to sell electricity across borders, as well as the skills needed to develop, build, and maintain these networks. This will in turn reduce our dependence on pollution-heavy fossil fuels both domestic and imported.

The North Sea grid between Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and Britain offers untold opportunities to wind, wave, and tidal energy generators in Scotland. The exact form it will take and who will pay for it are as yet uncertain; if the UK leaves the EU it’s hard to know if we’ll even be able to participate in the scheme.

Though the oil experts may have drastically overestimated the value of the black stuff beneath the North Sea, we are all criminally underestimating the potential value of the wind and water that shape it. The best way to mitigate risk and variability is to spread it, and the EU supergrid not only facilitates increased electricity market competition domestically, but allows import and export of electricity across borders to aid network stability at a time when resources are becoming volatile and declining in supply.

To illustrate the significance of the EU Supergrid, one has to briefly explore how the transmission networks operate. The electricity networks are a thrashing, confused, and temperamental beast.

Electricity is typically generated from two types of generators – synchronous and non-synchronous. Wind generation uses non-synchronous induction generators, while conventional generators are synchronous. Synchronous generators help stabilise the networks. That is, if a generator fails, you need a lot of synchronous generators available to offset the drop in output and maintain voltage levels by resisting changes to the system- essentially acting as a electromagnetic flywheel. Lots of wind power undermines this because they generally can’t provide inertia, meaning voltage drops, flickering, or brownouts happen if there are faults. Gas, coal, pumped storage, and nuclear powered turbines are good at providing system inertia because their big, hulking motors can resist sudden changes in the network.


The problem then is how these generators interact, how they are connected, and how they connect with demand centres. This has profound implications for how our energy markets operate. Electricity isn’t like any other market; supply and demand must always be equivalent, and hoarding is impossible or expensive. The market is moving towards a system whereby services will be provided such as demand aggregation, deferral, or capacity, to help ensure the system is always in balance. For example, a demand aggregator may pay consumers to defer using electricity at peak times to alleviate congestion on the network, or may pay a generator to constrain output at times of low demand. A capacity market is beginning to emerge whereby generators are to be paid to leave spare capacity available to accommodate increased renewable energy penetration. These are good things and will support the more dynamic power networks we’re heading towards.

Let’s imagine it’s an incredibly windy day in Scotland at 1AM. There’s very little demand, so Scotland is sending all of its excess down to England. France is selling its excess nuclear electricity to England because it has to shed the generation, so is selling the electricity at a dirt cheap rate. There is very limited interconnection to Scandinavia, Ireland, or from the Highlands and Islands to Central Scotland and the South. Put (very) simply, buyers bid for electricity from sellers (generators) which may then be resold to domestic or commercial suppliers through intermediaries.

Nuclear goes first, because it has to: the lack of demand means prices are low and nuclear generates a significant amount of electricity which can’t be curtailed.  Lack of transmission from energy rich areas like the Highland and Islands to neighbouring nations such as Norway or Eire punishes conventional generators such as gas and coal, who either have to switch off generation or maintain it at a low level, as well as renewable generators, who have to curtail their outputs. This wastes electricity and money as nuclear generators flood the market with cheap Megawatts, dragging the price of electricity down.

In areas of high generation and low demand, there is a need to get as much electricity out of that region as possible. This becomes a problem because, in this situation, generators such as gas and coal have to run at their minimum stable level or shut down altogether. They simply can’t match the low prices of other generators at these times. If wind and nuclear expand beyond anticipated generation, this will happen with increasing regularity, risking stranded assets, unprofitable generation and market failures. Wind energy is cheap but the infrastructure to integrate it effectively can be complicated and may have externalities beyond simply the variability (NOT unpredictability) of the resource.

We are very good at predicting the wind with minor margins of error, but the more we expand wind without increasing our capacity to export our electricity at times of low demand and peak generation, the more duress generators, transmitters, and distributors will be under. This, ultimately, means bill hikes for you and me (and this is partly why low gas and oil prices are only slowly reflected in electricity and gas bills). Some would paint this as a technological risk not worth taking- but wind’s economic benefits and ecological necessity mean this is a problem in need of a solution. Enter the European Super Grid and Smart Grid Concept.

Given current planned expansion to the SHETL (the electricity transmission network of Scotland and the Highlands and Islands), there could be the capability to transmit about 70% of Scotland’s peak winter demand between Scotland and England at any one time by the 2020s. On a grander scale, the EU has set a non-binding target for nations to be able to export 10% of their capacity to their nearest neighbours. The market implications of this are profound. Currently, in an area with limited distribution or transmission capabilities, there may be captive markets where a lone generator is the best provider in that network because there simply isn’t the grid capacity for other generators to supply to that region. This may mean, in particular, heavily polluting generation cornering local markets or inflated prices.

The inability to import electricity at periods of particular network strain, paired with a lack of capacity following a series of generator failures, led to one generator being paid over £2,500 per MWh in November of last year. For perspective, Hinkley Point C is being guaranteed over £95 per MWh, and that is double the current market rate for nuclear. A lack of transmission and distribution capacity means a lack of competition on the market, but generation companies have little incentive to expand transmission capacity within a network because it only serves to undermine the profitability of their assets. This is why schemes need to be encouraged and developed on a national and supranational scale – the market requirements of different actors can be mutually exclusive with what the system needs to maintain stability.

The problems with the market, the need to decarbonise generation, our apprehension towards developing rural areas, and Euroskepticism are all intrinsically linked. We need to decarbonise electricity, but doing so changes how our networks operate and may leave us more vulnerable to outages due to faults if legacy architecture can’t cope. Even with factors like the Supergrid, the technoeconomic challenges facing the electricity networks should concern us all.

We need more transmission and distribution infrastructure, but reluctance to develop the countryside based on anachronistic and idealistic views of our rural environment stymie essential developments. We need communication systems to control our electricity networks but these are open to disruption and cyberattack. We need to share the burden of a decarbonised electricity system with our neighbours, and the EU Supergrid is the best proposal for doing so, but without the EU we don’t know how it will be funded because the market struggles to provide transmission infrastructure until it absolutely needs to. Smart Grid technology can ameliorate some of these problems if properly implemented, but it’s no panacea. If we go the way of Australia, where distribution networks commonly export to the transmission network, the profitability of our transmission operator – National Grid – becomes increasingly precarious and dynamic with complex and potentially damaging consequences that are difficult to anticipate.

These challenges cannot be met purely by politicians or the market. In darkened corners, engineers talk of the concept of a “System Architect”. The market, many believe, will not itself resolve the challenges facing energy production, while politicians are often unreliable and simply won’t be able to create the sophisticated regulatory schemes needed to maintain network stability. As a result, some engineers are essentially calling for central planning of the electricity system – and given the challenges facing the system there’s a compelling case to be made. Among the problems with this, of course, is that electricity networks rely heavily on telecommunications equipment – much of which is leased from Vodafone –  and the system is almost inoperable without it. To fully nationalise or centrally plan the power networks, we’ll have to take control of a hell of a lot of communications infrastructure too.

We all face incredibly hard decisions to keep the lights on, and a lot of people are going to be very unhappy with the solutions. The power companies, the middle-class countryside nostalgists, the people of poor, underdeveloped rural communities, or poor people in the Central Belt unable to afford electricity, will have to make sacrifices. The challenge facing policymakers, and society in general, is, therefore, upon which of these groups the greatest burden is placed. If Scotland has any aspirations of becoming a more socially just, egalitarian nation, the choices will not be straightforward.



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  1. C Rober says:

    Bang on , something I have been boring people with for 40 years , eco energy and before fossil fuels run out , or our planet being habitable becomes the problem.

    The argument for wind , especially in Scotland , is merited , the other side of the coin , ie storage is doable. The other forms mentioned have had their testing , and the grants from it , and are now mothballed , ie tidal and wave.

    Scotland has many places that could easilly be salt water dammed , inland , where excess power , usually during the night , can therefore be converted to potential energy without hazardous chemicals.

    The operation is basically wind , then pump sea water inland and use for Hydro power , returning it to the sea generates power , there is also scope here for using it in fisheries , ie spawning terraces in tiering the hydro dams into smaller dams , prawns for example as well as salmon farms.

    During the industrial revolution some industrial scale mills in Scotland were powered in a similar manner , man made lochs , giving freshwater power , pre coal and steam of course. As were many around the world , plus like wind the world has a long history of using that energy for making flour.

    So what can prevent , well big business that makes power , keen on using and profiting from the likes of a Country where heating poverty exists. Aided by the fact that just about every one of the countries on the map above sold off national industries , had they remained nationalised , then they could hardly say no now could they?

    But still we will charge on with imported fuel , from Russia , Northern Europe and now that America is online from Shale liquifued from America and of course these soon to be built Chinese nuclear power stations and the hazards that will bring with it.

    1. J Galt says:

      So not only have our hillsides to be despoiled with a sea of useless windmills but our beautiful sea lochs are to be damned at vast expense as well?

      But then we can all be dismissed as “Middle class countryside nostalgists” – are there no Working class “countryside nostalgists”?

      1. C Rober says:

        Actually I agree with you , but I never said damming up sea lochs , bet you never seen that coming.If anything they are the port of exit , and potential tourist destination. I want to see all inland seawater protected from fishing and industry too , if this helps the cause even better.

        Scotland has a rare geology , where around the coast there is gigantic granite deposits , you may have seen some being mined or historical evidence of it now natures mini reserves , and usually on the news for someone drowning in summer.

        They are ideal for forming dams , then tiers , on the way back to the sea if within the correct distance. Plus the Howk , granite , is mined and used already for our roads and hardcore for crete , we just need to do it wisely , where the end result is a new deposit for water , not a side opened quarry useful for nothing but shareholders until they are empty.

        Ayrshire , behind Largs , more inland at Dalry and Beith , or even behind Greenock , where once there was a similar engineering feet that benefited Industry first , people second , and lastly nature itself – with the Cut and Loch Thom on the demise of same industry. And this is just one part of Scotland coast , a micro percentage of Scotland. Its all over the place near canals for example , where smaller draws of water could be basined like a battery , ready for drop off of wind or to lower water levels near flood areas quickly after a flood.

        However not only can this be managed , should be managed , but also becomes tourism and of course an engineering export on proof of concept , perhaps saving rain forests or supplying food in a micro variant for coastal communites where power is from Wood , ie the Amazon etc.

        Today as many species are hunted to death for food , at sea or on land , directly and indirectly , the very people that were the first to set up conservatories and animal reserves did so not for a benevolent reason , but to keep animals for sport instead , at the expense of the locals tables. One can hardly argue that with hindsight , then the change in mindsight generationally , that this was a good thing.

        Yet people have to feed their families , so still poach , selling on to the wealthy as an export , so should we say to them its a microscopic loss of beauty , or cheap energy itself , just to prevent a view for the tourist or middling class? NO , especially when the benefits are more than one , environments being protected by its creation , socialized eneregy creation , employment both short and long term , food and argiculture , water sanitisation , but then again does the world want an Africa to prosper really? If it did it would be full of solar panels already.

        Today as we continue to fill the air and water with pollutants , chemicals , and radiation we should be thinking generationally. While you are correct to defend , as I do , the using of sea lochs , they can be altered without a detrimental effect on locals , views and wildlife , and not just to have a few jobs from farmed salmon destroying them making the rich richer.

        We have that chance with Hollyrood , to set long term goals and legislation , even to the point of 100 years for socialism energy or land through taxation itself. For any indy long term thoughs this should be the goal in a oil deposit rich , yet fuel poverty nation.

        But like most countries of the world its economy is purely based on energy first , for everything needs energy , to produce the materials , ship the materials , or indeed keep the workers alive with heating and food being delivered to supermarkets.

        As long as we are dependant on importing energy , or hoping on selling it , ie NSO , then Scotland especially is at the banks and energy co’s beck and call.

        This is very obvious as America with its Shale industry is being attacked by its old Oil friends that are determined to crush it with cheaper and cheaper oil.

        Those tin foil hat brigade nutters , bent on exposing oil links to wars are kinda right , but obfuscate the picture for the rest in doing so , Banks , Energy Co run countries , democracy is a sham , so getting rid of them through socialising , renationalising , the very energy that gives them that power – should be a goal for any Govt over the longer term.

        Its not a case of upsetting some NIMBY communities , but bringing them in , showing them the benefits , not just for themselves but for their descendants.

        If that means HPI , Employment , Lower fuel prices as well as protecting the enviroment they theorise will be destroyed , by believing those in the pockets of Oil Cos and banks , ie politicians and the media , but as stockholders making the decisions then more the benefit in doing so.

        The price of a new power station in Scotland , fossil or Nuclear , would be enough to create some of these “batteries” , and defeat the only argument against Green energy , STORAGE , in one swoop.

        Without the socialising of energy , we will always be at the mercy of the rich , oil wont be cheap forever , and nuclear is no option over the long term , but by using a micro percentage of the land it protects the rest.

      2. Noel Darlow says:

        If you’ve got a better idea to reduce emissions great – let’s hear it. If not…

        1. Noel Darlow says:

          (above was a reply to J Galt)

          1. Magnus says:

            Away and shite Galt ya weird objectivist numpty. Wind turbines >>>> sheep and grouse

        2. J Galt says:

          We don’t need to, the Chinese need to – so go ask them.

          1. Noel Darlow says:

            @J Galt

            It’s not a Chinese problem. It’s a global problem and although I cannot be certain I assume that Earth is your home planet?

    2. J Galt says:

      Magnus, believe it or not the name is genuine and not a reference to Ayn Rand’s fictional hero.

      1. Magnus says:

        I stand corrected.

        Wind turbines are still braw tho and better than bare hillside

  2. Jim Bennett says:

    This is fantastic, detailed and thoughtful stuff. I’m really appreciative of the effort of the author in putting this together and Bella for sharing it. Great quality, thank you!

  3. David says:

    Why bother with all these needs, wind doesn’t work, then it does, for a a few hours, but we can buy more billion pound interconnectors eh, and pay more for storage, and buy it all back at much more than we gave it away for, but we certainly can’t pay our half share of £9bn wind subsidies by 2020 on our own under independence. As for biomass near the word green, it’s reportedly worse than coal which kills 3 million a year, and to think it currently gets the same subsidy amount as onshore wind…

    MSR on the other hand, 520MW, always on, just over a billion, no nonsense required, Bill Gates current competition here – let’s stop pretending:

  4. Mike Fenwick says:

    We are told to anticipate the “internet of things” – we are already well into the use of the cloud, and it is now common to see discussions on Big Data.

    How much power does the internet consume – and where might it be going – the entire ICT sector is likely to exceed the CO2 emissions of the airline industry by 2020 (quote from the link below).

    So, given 1) our position on the meridian, 2) our cooler climate, and 3) our capacity to produce excess electricity, particularly when related not to Europe, but to America and China – combine those factors – where might they lead?

    Might it lead to Scotland being home to the greenest yet data centres? Is that an opportunity we are not realising?

    Try this link:

    1. C Rober says:

      Theres a solution there from a problem too , companies pay big bills for cooling of data centres , theres a startup doing this to locate servers in homes , free heat , co2 offset.

      1. C Rober says:

        Found a link to what i mentioned , in case you are interested.

        1. Mike Fenwick says:

          Thanks … via the link below, is a discussion at Davos, and one of the points made about the future of Big Data etc, was the need to distinguish between what data had to be ultra secure – v- what could be treated more openly (bit like Hilary Clinton’s e–mails maybe).

          Being serious (altho’ Idon’t know this) it is unlikely I would think that large corporates (say Banks) would accept distribution of their data via that form of system, but maybe there are advantages to a highly distributed system – I am no expert.

          That said, there must be other imaginative ways (beyond the obvious) where what is being developed could be used.

          Link to Davos discussion:


          1) Also mentioned in that discussion briefly are references to what Paul Mason’s book was suggesting, the reduction in the cost of many things through the advance of technology which featured and was discussed on Bella quite extensively.

          2) The use of solar panels to power IT in villages in India is also covered, which in some ways is the equivalent to what your link is suggesting, it’s good to see these new ideas being formulated.

          1. Mike Fenwick says:

            Apologies … that link takes you to a list of clips (which may be of interest in any event) but the one that I was referring to is towards the foot of the clips – “The Transformation of Tomorrow”.

          2. C Rober says:

            Thanks Mike , I try not to watch the likes of the G number propoganda , all talk no action , saying this on one hand then promoting new TECH as the future for industrial growth on the other hand.

            neradlized is basically the cloud in blocks , usuable even by banks with hardware not software keys being uncrackable to your average script kids without supercomputers and a lifetime , or a state sponsored botnet superior and a few months , but by then key is changed like a rotating PGP session.

            Think like modern SKY cards and how their encryption works , no access to node without key , no read of data without key tied to a BOX. Try a sky card in a modern box its not meant for , unusable , data remains scrambled , unlike their old encryption.

            Even if a viral attack happens and all data is retrieved from the home server , without the geo located hardware and specific key , ie the node at bank , the data is unreadable. Its not like it cant be HACKED , everything can , but would have to be done at the very node entry point inside the bank HQ itself , the most simple of hacks , or from cloning both the hardware and keys.

            But considering the cloud is filling with cat vids , selfies etc , online legal movies like Netflix for the most part nerdalize is just a socialised NAS anyway , where big business can use it also once they feel its secure enough even for banking.

  5. Alastair McIntosh says:

    Thanks for such a quality article explaining complex issues so very clearly. Hope this will be read well beyond Bella’s usual readership. I’m about to tweet it out.

    1. Anton says:

      Well said, Jim.

  6. Noel Darlow says:

    Has anyone estimated the cost of a Europe/North Africa supergrid or what sort of time it would take to build it?

  7. Crubag says:

    The author is unaware that neither Iceland nor Norway are part of the union, having voted No.

    But everyone still wants to partner with Norway as they have high mountains suitable for dam building, and so lots of hydro. When you have something worth trading you have no shortage of partners

    1. C Rober says:

      Importantly the geology in Scotland is the same , ideal for SWB , salt water batteries , with least long term enviromental impact. Just wait until they figure out terraced fish and shelfish farming , 2000 years later than the old civilisations as a positive addition.

  8. George Gunn says:

    I do not see why poor people will have to make sacrifices: they are usually sacrificed in any industrial scenario. As far as wind power in the Highlands and Islands is concerned the “inter-connectivity” that needs to be looked at is that between land owners and power providing cartels. What we need is an economy of scale, not one of profit-addiction and ecology destroying “growth”. Around me there are many wind farms making lots of money for estate owners, “big” farmers and power companies; we have the 2nd fastest current in the world in the Pentland Firth which could provide power for the entire country but is being deliberatley scuppered because the UK Tory elite are addicted to nuclear and the illusory military power it gives them. It currently is, at Dounreay, being taken apart and slowly being buried in the ground. Which is fitting because that is where Westminster continually has its head. Scotland is energy rich. Scotland is energy poor. Which of these is correct?

    1. C Rober says:

      I would say both are correct , tapped reserves , but dependant on oil price , yet fuel poor due to price charged by Fuel companies that are blaming Price Increases on Green Taxation.

      One has to think longer term , while oil is cheap we dont really use it for Electricity creation , Energy prices will always go up , the only option to lowering them over the longer term is Greener , combined with renationalising – say over 100 years , first to local and then National levels.

      Is there any surprise that some energy cos are prospecting in buying up land in the right places globally , looking toward a future without fossil fuels ? No.

      As they figure this out and buy up more land , then eventually it will be green and charged a premium for it.

      Bp pre oil leak was intent on doing just that , thinking like banks do over the generational term (pre crash and debt socialising of course) , they were particularly keen on using homes for batteries as well as creation , ie using green from wind and water then storage was via hydrogen creation and micro fuel cells , panasonic came a long way with theirs for home use in Japan. Think how those using oil fired burners for home heating have tanks , well apply to gas storage of hydrogen created out of thin air , non toxic , no co2 , and of course not as explosive as one imagines when leaks.

      One of the few things I had wished to see during indy was the oil being used for a soverign wealth fund like Norways , seeing as how this was mentioned in another post about SWB , and using it for investment into a Nationalised power generation policy , with the goal to be totally independant , not Just from RUK , but from Banks and Energy Co’s. Sadly they missed the boat on that one.

      Wages , raw materials , and Energy dictate the price of manufactured or grown goods , an economy like the uk dedicated to Bank and Services is short termist and severely flawed.

      For job creation , cheaper energy means cheaper goods , cheaper house building means cheaper wages , cheaper fuel for those homes means cheaper wages , nationalised green energy is the best option for that.

      If working people are spending 50 percent on their mortgage , 30 percent on heating and car fuel , and the unemployed and pensioner are paying over 50 percent on their heating alone choosing to heat or eat then this is something that needs tackled , but done so outwith those that have the most say…. the energy cos themselves.

      I say this BTW as I pay 67p , equiv , for premium diesel at the pump , as the Uk is happy with just under a quid.

      My goal is offgrid , partly there already , my electric bill is about 100 quid a month , in a country with VERY high energy prices.

      This isnt some idiot green nutter typing , sipping fair trade coffee , wearing hemp clothes , with no tv and crapping into a bucket full of sawdust.

      This is your typical penny pinching Scotsman , abroad , living in communities that have done this for generations , as their children and grandchildren have buggered off to the city to work , one that cannot afford to live in Scotland due to the energy prices even today , never mind in the future.

    2. Noel Darlow says:

      We have to do everything with knobs on if we’re going to tackle climate change: increase renewables capacity, upgrade the grid, become much more energy efficient, and make some changes in behaviour such as using more public transport and eating less meat. It’s a huge challenge requiring a big investment and this must take first priority in our national budget. We don’t really have a choice: the future is either green or Mad Max. Those are the only options.

      I think there is a bright side for ordinary people in the long run. Moving to a sustainable economy will inevitably create a much more equal society. When growth is very low, or non-existent, it’s no longer possible to justify extremes of wealth with the claim that a rising tide lifts all boats. Stagnating incomes will increase resentment towards those who are sitting on piles of unearned wealth. We’ll start to see our “wealth creators” for what they are: wealth extractors who don’t make any proportionate contribution to society in return for the vast privileges which they enjoy.

      In the meantime we have to start building the future as best as we can. We urgently need to reduce our emissions and any new wind farm proposals must primarily be judged on that basis. The rule we have to follow when objections are raised for any specific proposal is do we have a better, alternative proposal? If we do great; if not we have to go ahead with the original plan.

      I would much prefer that income went to local communities, or to the government and hence all of us, rather than creating economic rents which will be siphoned off by individuals – individuals whose ownership of these large chunks of our land is increasingly being questioned. However, We can’t afford to wait for a perfect world before deciding to tackle climate change. We need to act now and we need to start thinking big.

      For example, it will take over 100,000 years for CO2 levels to return to normal, albeit with a long tail. Unmitigated emissions threaten a mass extinction with a recovery time measured in millions of years (the time to recover a similar level of biodiversity as we see today: once species are lost they are gone forever). Perhaps the biggest impact from a human perspective will be the disruption to our food supply. Given that it would take at least a few hundred years before the climate would stabilise at a new normal, we might be facing several centuries of food shortages and famines breaking out at different times in different parts of the world. These can easily trigger armed conflict and mass migration, as we’ve seen in Syria.

      We’ve never faced a challenge on this scale before. Post WW2 we’ve been on a path of ever-increasing prosperity which has seeped deep into our consciousness to the extent that we can hardly imagine anything else. We’ve created a kind of pirate culture where the Earth’s natural resources, and even it’s people, are fair game for anyone to exploit. Drink all the rum, grab all you can, and never think about the future. One way or another, that’s about to change.

  9. Mathew says:

    I must be idealistic and anachronistic, then, because I do not think we need more transmission and distribution infrastructure. We need less.
    Less of everything in fact. Less of us.

    1. We can certainly reduce energy consumption and insulation and efficiency as well as work from renewable though Matthew?

      1. C Rober says:

        Ed , what if i was to tell you that a new 3 bed house , for half of the price of Scotlands average price could be self sufficent in energy can be carbon negative?

        This is the goal , my goal , and with rethinking housing it can be , with rethinking energy creation to reduce Scotland to a country without HPI and heating slaves , and were wealth creation is actually reducing personal mortgages to 5-10 years instead of 20 to 30?

        When the SNP removed RTB , rather than replace it or improve it , they showed in one move where money is protected , not for home buyers , but for those that make money from housing. Proven even more so through their drive towards mortgage based housing not council , that could aid communities instead over the longer term , more so than farmland executive commuter belt housing against their promises and policies.

        But Hollyrood is in the pockets of Developers , land owners , or fearful of Banks and energy companies ,they just dont want the masses to be better off , and are happy instead on touting affordable housing lies to feed the machine , one must assume the same of energy creation policies being of an equal lie.

      2. Mathew says:

        Yes, we can certainly do all those things. But I tend to think that all of the positives we achieve through energy efficiency/recycling etc. are cancelled out by our ever increasing population. Has there been a COP meeting yet where population growth was even discussed, never mind tackled?

        1. Mathew says:

          It’s also worth saying that mankind survived and thrived for hundreds of thousands of years without an electricity grid or other forms of infrastructure. We could choose to do without it. It’s not an absolute necessity for human survival.

          1. C Rober says:


            Seeing as how the links of China and its pollution was mentioned , there is a couple of ways to tackle this.

            Directly wee need import taxes that both face the disproportionate import export gap , and of course the hidden co2 from shipping from China to Scotland , or indeed anywhere in the world.

            But the problem here is cheap goods , cheap foreign wages make imports cheaper. So if we cant produce cheaper via wages , then the next step is through the production cost itself , where most of that is energy price and raw materials.

            So by tackling the true problem , the Banks and the Energy companies , through removing their power over the energy price , then we can forge onward.The only way to do this is Green and nationalised energy creation , perhaps even directly to the local level via micro or non chemical or REM storage.

            Musk has talked about this very thing with super batteries for the home a couple of years back , where homes store energy they will use , but these use REM , no surprise there then that both Musk and China have been buying up mines and land for the materials.

            It always surprises me why when 40 years ago I asked myself why homes ran on 240v ac , while our devices technically may be running on 9 to 24v dc ?

            The standard textbook answer was efficiency for the producer to supply , ie because of drop off , so low voltage dc to the home was unviable , so we technically used more energy in the conversion process than we need , which means more profit for the Energy co. So why would they want any change to less electricity use thus less profit?

            Today we are starting to see passive heating houses as both the goal and standard , with run through of cat6 , so why not go further and have a direct rail STANDARD for dc for “low power devices” being part of home during the construction process , to say USB3 power standard sockets but without the AC DC conversion ?

            However with the creation and storage of Whole Solar Roof and even windows , in the same place as where the power is needed , then theoretically stored in Musk battery , led lighting and low voltage things like Tvs , phones , computers etc can now be done , so LV should be the building standard to go for today….as preinstalls for tomorrow.

            But this still leaves out heating , the next biggest personal use of energy.With passive house it is not needed at all , or very little , even in cold climes like Scotland.

            A lot of Northern European heating is based on heating water for rads , but there is rarely any thought given to preheating prior to the boiler itself for running hot water , other than the expensive undersoil , which is usually reserved for pet projects. So how about when we think about this when creating all new housing estates today?

            Northern European Solar hot water collection , can work for up to six months of the year , even without direct sunlight , to pre heat slab floors and hot water , a much hated building technique today due to how it sucked heat out of the air when tried out in the 70s.

            This slab can be used to store solar heat all day for only minimal energy cost , ie pump , preheating the home for less use of Gas or Electric heating for the owner coming home from work , I use it , it works , then I just top it up for a few nights in winter with AIR TO AIR , think reverse aircon , but only in rooms I use. Pound for pound A2A heating works , cheaper than gas or electric water heating , but the outlay cost for a few days a year isnt for everyone.

            How many homes in Scotland use A2A , or even A2W , not many , but it is increasing , even in those Northern European countries with actual real winters.

            My goal is to educate every client , every self builder , every council , and architect towards this form of heating , rethinking brick and block building , including home energy storage , from hydrogen creation , SWB Hyrdro and micro generation from stream and wind.

            Our socialist goal should be towards cheaper housing as well as energy , towards affordable homes that are not a lie , which also means paying the mortgage off faster , meaning a working life that makes a pension age younger which is also decreasing unemployment , where working past 55 is a choice rather than a need to pay a mortgage or heating bill.

            To do that it needs to be sold as a cheaper alternative , not specifically a greener one that costs more , or told to do it by a greenie pontificating from Milngavie to the Mearns , with their 2 cars on the driveway , with one being a 3l diesel that does a school run everyday .

          2. Magnus says:

            we didn’t have 7bn people on the planet, then, Mathew

    2. Magnus says:

      after you

  10. Anne Thomas says:

    This article makes some good points, however it is out of date in terms of the inter-connecters which already exist and are about to be constructed. Obviously once you are connected to France or the Netherlands they then connect to other countries.
    One of the main frustrations is the amount of power which is constrained by lack of connectors from the Islands to the mainland. Orkney and Shetland in particular are wasting huge amounts of potential power.
    Gridwatch gives you an idea of how much renewable electricity is currently being generated and has been generated historically but bear in mind that small scale wind adds about 50% to the wind section and solar just counts as a reduction in demand. If you go to gridwatch France you can see how solar adds into the mix there. Interestingly France needs nearly twice as much electricity for a similar sized population but probably uses more for heat and air conditioning.

  11. old battle says:

    Excellent!! Aberdeen must become the intellectual and business centre for “new power”. We should have had a substantial budget from oil revenue to support such a Centre but…
    Bella might consider building on this paper to manage a one day conference around best new practice and future practice within the power industry.

    1. C Rober says:

      Once oil is gone Aberdeen will be cast aside once more , like an empty oil drum. As it is now being shown , it doesnt even need the oil to be gone , just below profit rate for extraction.

      Scotland is full of towns and cities that grew from a wealth and then died , Greenock with fishing , dies , then shipbuilding grows then dies again , its a perfect example and somewhat similar to Aberdeen with its rise and falls.

      Outside of London the power of Glasgow was seen during history , not just on a UK scale , but a Global one , being the 2nd biggest city in the “Empire” , but dissent there and immigration to the Midlands , with like today’s money flight from China meant its demise.

      It , Aberdeen , had the potential to be a great city , on a par if not greater than either Glasgow or Edinburgh , but sadly the wealth that could have been used , to create motorways and direct rail links propped up the bancrupt Uk just when it was needed instead. Those that thought indy would lose them jobs should be crying into their museli about now.

      Aberdeen could well still be a growth city , but sadly Hollyrood doesnt have the powers it would need to do so. Yet the Northern England powerhouse councils will have that power , more even than the VOW will deliver , only INDY can now save it and somewhat Ironically given the mentality on the voting public there.

  12. willie says:

    When you consider the difficultie and complexities of matching supply and demand you have to ask yourself if free market provision of power is in humanity’s interest. Privatisation and market trading militates against effective power delivery.

  13. Graham Ennis says:

    First of all, congratulations Bella, on another heavy duty article that is at the level of a Government briefing paper. (I hope Richard Lochead gets a copy). Expanded into a heavier academic paper and widely circulated is something that should be seriously considered. Every MSP should get one, with a pre-brief note.

    Some observations:
    1:This makes it very clear that the Union is costing Scotland some Billions of lost economic product a the taxes that go with it. Energy Sovereignty simply does not exist for Scotland, in any discernible form. Scotland appears to be being used as a “Base-Load Reserve” for the UK grid, and as a profit centre.

    2:The distortions to the economic structure and model of Scotland that stem from this are huge. They in turn are creating macro-blockages to economic expansion, as the present energy system and costs simply does not support various potential future industries that are emerging elsewhere, such as increased automation of industrial and factory production. The new emerging model there is mixed automation/robotics/Human workers, and when energy costs are high, Human labour is maximised, (as it is cheap) and high tech imput is expensive. Since about 40% plus of all conventional economic labour is about to disappear in the next 30 years, unless it has a cost advantage over hi-tech production/services, then it is going to leave Scotland with huge numbers of poor people, jobless and angry. Scotland will be “Bottle-Necked” into a retrogressive economy, with a surviving hi-tech/research sector, but a large obsolete low tech sector that cannot compete at all Globally. (For a glimpse of what this will look like, watch the great classic Fritz Lang film, “Metropolis”.)

    3:In a modern highly integrated social and economic system, increasingly based on Knowledge not physical resources, Scotland in this scenario, will not have the economic base to support the educational and social sectors of it’s society that would be required to survive and compete in this new World. The future for Scotland looks grim, unless it regains Sovereignty, not just politically, but socio-economically.

    4:The reason I mention all this is that the debate on energy is NOT just an economic one. It is a survival one, where the “Deep” issues are political and social and futurist. It also cross connects with other issues in Scotland, such as the Land issue, where similar non-economic issues are avoided. The ecological costs and damages of the present land ownership, by Oligarchs, are massive, have large anti-social impacts, etc etc…..All stem from the same root causes of the “Base” of the present Scottish State being as it is.

    5:There are several other large issues, besides the intertwined energy and land/ecological ones. Together, they make up the present socio-economic structure and it’s problems, and unless treated as a whole, will not be even understood, let alone having any hope of being dealt with.

    6:It needs to be understood that this is a deliberate configuration of the present Scottish “Entity”, socially and politically engineered, to produce a Free-Market type profit extracting result. So what I am saying is; “Look how complicated it really is: Everything is interconnected, everything is interdependent, and everything is fixed, to produce the present system and its discontents.
    President Mitterand of France was right, about his “Mitterand plan”. He said, bitterly, that “Unless you are a Leninist in economic matters, nothing happens.”.

    It is our job, to make something happen, to all of the above, but first, the kind of deep investigation and integration that Bella is such a brilliant locus for.

    1. Thanks – we’re considering how to make this widely available

    2. C Rober says:

      Hence my usual retort of Banks and Energy companies are the enemy , one funds and feeds the other , but also aided by other wealthy in the background , either in their pocket or fearful of them – including the politicians themselves that set housing legislation.

      Even the official homeless body SHELTER seems to stay silent about Hollyrood and its drive for a mortgage based housing structure , any house good .

      They too need to come in to the party and Challenge the establishment , not be a serf with cap in hand instead , happy that the creation of housing in Scotland is 90 percent unaffordable to the median , and 5 percent social . Still waiting on my reply from a personal email from the director regarding the SNP using Shelter figures in a very egregious way , ie basically making out that Shelter is happy with the lack of council housing and what Hollyrood define is the affordable price , one that contradicts SNP and Hollyrood’s own papers.

      By making housing cheaper , affordable but not the SNP lie version , we remove the power of the banks through smaller mortgages that are payable not in a lifetime , but in under a decade. By reintroducing RTB (modified), the Councils have an income stream , unlike the old version and can even be used to remove the banks from the mortgage chain altogether.

      Yes it means factory production line SIP housing , so energy and wage cost dependent , just when we need 150 , 000 for the council waiting lists alone , never mind the low paid workers unable to start off on the ladder even if they dont want to go any higher on it , whom may be the very meat automatons on the production lines , that are being bought off with taxpayers money.

      Had the failed banks been forced to offload their loan books to recapitalize , at a percentage of their value , just like their own debtors have to , then things could have been a lot easier , but of course that would have affected all house prices in some form…. a leaking if not burst bubble. So BANK DEBT was funded by legislation from GOVT’s to socialise their debts instead , hardly the capitalist market in action of rise and fall , boom and bust.

      By making energy creation cheaper , combined with these cheaper passive houses , a rethink on mortgage and RTB , we remove another income usually sent off to the coffers of banks and energy companies , and of course reduce the tax income from it.

      So why should there be any change in the filling of the troughs , if the Banks , Energy CO’s and even politicians dont want it.

      Your right , all interconnected. As for Leninist he would be a privatized turbine in his grave looking at the former communist Russia , where energy wealth is not in any form benefiting the masses.

  14. David Carr says:

    This is super stuff and highly relevant to my ongoing research on Scottish Maritime development.

    It is my contention that Scottish geography – and history – means that our livelihood is from the sea. In the near term we must – must – develop offshore renewable energy and all the infrastructure that goes with it. Grids. Servicing vessels. Construction. Wider national and international maritime infrastructure. People.

    The smart grid is a key enabler for this. Scotland will be exporting energy while reducing carbon regionally.

    If anyone wants to pitch in especially on offshore reneables or other maritime matters, ping me @CarrTarkadhal

    1. Mike Fenwick says:

      I confessed earlier I am no expert, I stick with that, but in my earlier post I asked:

      “… So, given 1) our position on the meridian, 2) our cooler climate, and 3) our capacity to produce excess electricity, particularly when related not to Europe, but to America and China – combine those factors – where might they lead?

      Might it lead to Scotland being home to the greenest yet data centres? Is that an opportunity we are not realising?”

      4 days later, and I read Microsoft have started testing servers by placing them underwater in the sea, they cite various reasons (that’s where the experts, not me, come in) but hey, Scotland has the longest overall coast lines in Europe, servers use huge amounts of energy, and that energy can be obtained from the sea.

      I, non expert that I am, ask again, are we missing an opportunity?

      Link to Microsoft’s Project Natick here:

      1. Mike Fenwick says:

        Meant to include this extract from that link:

        How would a Natick datacenter impact the environment?

        We aspire to create a sustainable datacenter which leverages locally produced green energy, providing customers with additional options to meet their own sustainability requirements.

        Natick datacenters are envisioned to be fully recycled. Made from recycled material which in turn is recycled at the end of life of the datacenter.

        A Natick datacenter co-located with offshore renewable energy sources could be truly zero emission: no waste products, whether due to the power generation, computers, or human maintainers are emitted into the environment.

        With the end of Moore’s Law, the cadence at which servers are refreshed with new and improved hardware in the datacenter is likely to slow significantly. We see this as an opportunity to field long-lived, resilient datacenters that operate “lights out” – nobody on site – with very high reliability for the entire life of the deployment, possibly as long as 10 years.

        Natick datacenters consume no water for cooling or any other purpose.

        1. C Rober says:

          Funny that , just read it yesterday as well about the undersea data centres.

          Why oh why is Hollyrood not offering ZERO percent tax breaks for housing them in many of the unused harbours along Scotlands Coast. Ideal , Scotland is a perfect , a landing zone between America and Europe for data geographically , has the knowhow of seas , shipping and I.T.

          This is also ideal for on land , submerged into the SWB inland I often mention , where access would be easy for repairs and replacements without huge Ships and I.T divers? Plus warmed sea water for breeding and farming fish stocks which are normally temp dependent. Plus you dont have the problems with Weeds that have proven so detrimental with tidal.

          With these kind of blue sky things they end up being done in countries , sadly where under the guise of green , but for the tax breaks instead as test beds , they are then mothballed and moved on to the next one offering another tax break.

          However a failure of this on one level may well mean a lateral move to where it is a working model. I.e reservoirs in rural Scotland , or for local water heating , or even Africa with solar means ultra low energy where heat is used for sterilization of water.

          Every time I think of failure I then ask what if it is applied differently?

          1. Mike Fenwick says:

            I have twice confessed that I am no expert, let’s extend that … I am ignorant, I don’t know as examples how much electricity is produced in Scotland, nor how much we anticipate we need. So why on earth should I be posting against the obvious experts?

            It starts here with this exceprt from above:

            “In areas of high generation and low demand, there is a need to get as much electricity out of that region as possible. ” ( …and the remainder of the paragraph from which the extract is drawn is equally important.)

            But for me that statement gives rise to a question, namely if we have high generation but low demand, should we not start by asking in what ways can we increase demand to come closer to the levels of supply, before we hit the problems well explained in the article about the competition over the price we need for “our” suppy in combat with the supply from others?

            That question takes me to my second extract:

            “Let’s imagine it’s an incredibly windy day in Scotland at 1AM. There’s very little demand, so Scotland is sending all of its excess down to England.”

            As is explained in the article, as I understand it, that supply export will then face competition, and may or may not be marketable at a profit, so we end up having to resource a loss.

            So can we utilise the excess in Scotland, can we better match supply and demand?

            That is where the power requirements of servers appears to me to open up possibilities. At 1.00 am in Scotland, when we are ourselves not using the power we can generate, what time is it in Bejing, New York or San Francisco – is the whole world asleep or just us? If we can produce something for which we have no immediate need, can we productively supply it to others, and do so within our territorial boundaries?

            Again I confess my ignorance, I am just trying to question the assumption that if we are capable as a country of producing environmentally safer electricity, then we should explore every way in which we can use that to our advantage.

            This is a bit dated, but is an article related to Google’s data centre in Finland:


            If Finland – why not Scotland?

  15. Richard Lamond says:

    An informed article that’s a good summary of the topic.

    A few addendums to help set the scene further…

    The UK is already interconnected (to France, Holland, Northern Ireland and Eire, with a total capacity of 4GW). Further planned interconnection is about 7GW.

    Only 20% of the energy used in the UK is in the form of electricity, with 40% being heat and 40% transport fuels and for the latter two renewable options are both generally more limited and expensive. Although low-carbon transport will mean increased requirements for electricity we’ll still need oil for the foreseeable future.

    There’s a couple of pumped storage hydro schemes being looked at for around Loch Ness which would essentially act as energy stores; good for a system with high renewables penetration.

    As the last paragraph rightly alludes to though, Scotland’s potential is one thing, but whether Scots themselves will accept the impacts that result from achieving that potential is another.

    1. Noel Darlow says:

      Whether we do it enthusiastically or whether we do it grudgingly we still have to do it – and fast. Climate change doesn’t give us any choice. People have to be told that objective reality does not care what they think.

      There’s a very simple rule to follow when objections are made to a specific policy or proposal. If you don’t like it suggest an alternative option with similar emissions reduction potential. If you can’t do that then we have to continue with the original plan.

      This gives people some scope to shape policy – such as finding the best locations for wind farms – but does not allow them to simply block all progress.

      We can’t afford to muck about any longer. We’ve already altered the climate and committed ourselves to some serious impacts such as disruption to agriculture no matter what we do next. The longer we delay the worse these impacts will be. When you’re in an emergency the path is simple: quickly identify the best plan of action and put all your energy into that.

      1. Richard Lamond says:

        Noel, I broadly agree with you here and think you make a very valid point regarding people having to put forward alternatives.

        For instance, I hear a lot of people say “I’m in favour of wind turbines, but just not in this area”, which immediately begs the question “well, where then?”. And if people aren’t in favour of wind then it’s only fair to ask them for their views on what technologies they’d like to get power from. Basically, if people object, which they have every right to do, it would help if they then became part of the solution rather than an additional obstacle.

        What is required to push through the changes on such environmental matters is a brave government with a substantial majority, meaning that they can afford to take risks and lose an element of public support along the way but not have to cover their backs so much in passing legislation it gets watered down to the point that it becomes ineffective.

        1. David Carr says:

          “I’m in favour of wind turbines, but just not in this area”, which immediately begs the question “well, where then?”

          Far offshore seems sensible. And do-able.

          1. Noel Darlow says:

            Reducing emissions is a massive problem and no single thing can solve it. In order to switch to a sustainable, low-carbon economy we’ll need to do pretty much everything we can think of: offshore wind, onshore wind, other renewables, dispatchable storage systems, demand management, energy efficiency, changes to our lifestyle – and of course the supergrid will be a vital element allowing energy import/export around the continent.

            So I don’t think we have a choice of either onshore or offshore wind. In fact, since onshore is cheaper and quicker, we’ll probably be forced to concentrate on that first with offshore installations coming online at a much slower pace.

            As a very rough estimate, we’ll probably have to plan for around 10,000 new turbines in Scotland plus associated transmission lines. Maybe much more. These have to go where the best wind is which means upland and coastal regions. That immediately creates a conflict with environmental groups like the John Muir Trust and others who will object not only to the visual impact of wind developments within notionally designated “wild” land but also to developments which might be visible on the distant horizon from within these areas (!). Neither objection can be accommodated if we are serious about cutting carbon emissions – and I say that as a keen hillwalker who likes nothing better than to wander about in the remote upland areas of Scotland.

  16. John Monro says:

    Worth reviewing this pan-European and North African electricity grid proposal, thank you. It’s an omission that you haven’t mentioned DESERTEC, , which was probably the original proposal from quite a few years ago. However this was mostly a private endeavour and many of the original backers have withdrawn. All this is too big for private investors, but we live in age of neoliberalism where governments are hamstrung by their own dogmas and unable/unwilling to contribute to such farsighted endeavours. There is a small rump of the proposal that has gone ahead, and that’s Morocco’s solar farm, which has been promoted by their King, who now goes under the name Le Roi de Soleil.

    There is an urgency to get on with this sort of transformative system, 2015 was by far the warmest year this planet has experienced since the ice age, and we are now more than halfway to the 2 deg warming world that science says is the maximum we could conceivably cope with. (Though I would say even 1.5 deg C is likely to prove too much)

  17. Quarks says:

    Good article but…
    SHETL is Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd, one of three companies that own “The National Grid” in the UK. The other two being Scottish Power Networks and National Grid Transco. The balancing of supply with demand used to be on a area bases within these three companies, but was changed by Westminster, with National Grid taking over UK wide balancing, but not ownership. With the shutdown of Longannet, the ability to do this now would be very difficult.

    There already a number of 11kV and 33kV networks where imbedded generation exceeds the local demand. As was mentioned, the lack of synchronous plant does leave a network weaker, but some larger wind farms have protection settings to avoid tripping off for certain system disturbances, so strengthening the network.

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