What’s the future for onshore wind in Scotland?

To meet the Scottish government's ambitious renewable energy targets, onshore wind will have to play a significant part. SSE's Paul Cooley looks at the issues.

As the birthplace of wind-powered electricity generation, and the windiest country in Europe, Scotland has been a world leader in harnessing this natural power.

Onshore wind is set to be the cheapest form of electricity generation and it can be deployed quickly. It also benefits the UK economy with a recent study by BiGGAR economics showing that two thirds of the lifetime financial spend of a typical GB onshore wind farm remains within the UK.

The Scottish government’s draft Energy Strategy contains an ambitious target of generating the equivalent of 50 per cent of the country’s total electricity, heat and transport demand from renewables by 2030. There is rightly broad support for this ambition.

Doing that, the Scottish government’s figures show, would require significant new deployment of renewable electricity generation – capacity which could be met not only by new onshore wind sites but also by the repowering of existing ones with more powerful turbines.

Scotland currently has 6.1GW of onshore wind in operation with (at least) a further 1GW expected to come online before 2020 and it’s encouraging that the excellent wind conditions on the remote islands could soon be harnessed. Yet as we move into the 2020s the operational project life of a lot of these existing sites will begin to near the end of their cycle. This trend will continue into the late 2020s and into the 2030s.

Onshore wind makes up 70 per cent of Scotland’s installed renewable capacity and contributes over half of the UK’s total onshore wind capacity (9.9GW). If this capacity is not replaced through repowering, it will be lost from this total.

SSE therefore believes it would be in the best interest of customers, and for Scottish economic ambitions, for onshore wind development, including repowering, to be supported in order to meet decarbonisation targets and deliver economic benefits on a local, regional and national level.

Indeed a new report from Baringa Partners, commissioned by Scottish Renewables, found that 1GW of new onshore wind capacity could be delivered, via a competitive auction, at no additional cost to consumers over and above the long-term wholesale price of power. The majority of these projects would be expected to be located in Scotland. This certainly provides food for thought for the next UK government, who will manage the auction process

No less important is the need for Scotland to continue to offer the right conditions for efficient, well-sited developments. SSE has called on the Scottish government to play its part by ensuring that the planning regime takes into account its ambitious renewables targets and enables onshore wind, particularly repowered sites, to be developed.

The good news for consumers is that the onshore wind of tomorrow can and will be delivered cheaper than the onshore wind of today: so long as legislators are minded to keep the wind in the sails of Scotland’s renewables industry.