Glasgow prepares for fresh bid to become European Green Capital

Written by Alan Robertson on 26 March 2015 in Feature

City's renewable energy ambitions step up a gear

“The fact that Glasgow has got the highest concentration of employment in renewable energy has come as a bolt from the blue,” admits Stuart Patrick, chief executive of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, the city remains far and away the largest employment hub with over 2,000 jobs – almost one in five of those within the Scottish sector – based in Glasgow.

This encompasses large players such as utilities SSE and ScottishPower, down to smaller enterprises like Gaia-Wind. Of course, Scotland’s largest city has a lasting connection with the field. The first wind turbine for electricity production owes its roots to the city, built by Professor James Blyth of Anderson’s College – now University of Strathclyde – in 1887.

“Historically, of course, we’ve had recognition of the rich potential for renewable energy in Scotland and that allied to the engineering heritage from Glasgow seems like a perfect mix,” says Professor Keith Bell, who is ScottishPower professor of smart grids in the university’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.
Acknowledgment of that fact came last May when All-Energy, the UK’s largest renewable energy event, announced its intention to swap Aberdeen for Glasgow after 14 years in the Granite City.

“I think Glasgow has just got a bit more to offer just in terms of facilities and infrastructure than Aberdeen has and Aberdeen will admit that, that they were struggling with things like hotels and taxis and stuff like that,” says Andrew Jamieson, chief executive of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

“But, nevertheless, it’s also a good recognition point that there is an awful lot going on in Glasgow about renewables in the same way Aberdeen has with oil and gas.” The Catapult, one of seven such centres set up by the UK Government in high growth industries, was established in 2013 with a specific focus on offshore wind, wave and tidal energy. Working with industry and academia, the project, which now has more than 40 people on its books, is intended to speed up the delivery, commercialisation and scalability of technological advancements. These include testing and demonstrating new foundation concepts as well as sensor technologies that allow maintenance of turbines based on their condition rather than at a scheduled time.

Jamieson, who was speaking to Holyrood Renewables before the announcement of the outcome of the first allocation round of Contracts for Difference, is keen to see Glasgow cement its place as an “equivalent to Aberdeen in the oil and gas sphere for renewables” and tap into the export opportunities that follow. Understanding the impact of wind on the durability of increasingly larger offshore turbines as well as the best ways to transport power from remote locations offshore to onshore are among areas where Glasgow, with its strong engineering focus, can lead thinking. 

“These are all things the industry has not fully yet nailed down into what is the best way of doing those kind of things in the future,” says Jamieson. “Our industry is in a position where we’re growing and we’re learning and we’re learning at a rate where we can catch up with what’s going on with conventional generation because the guys that run coal plants and gas plants and nuclear plants have clearly had the benefit of many, many decades on a global basis to understand how to run those plants very, very well.

“Our industry is learning that and learning it well, so you’re seeing costs are coming down, you’re seeing technical reliability improving all the time, and that becomes frankly a huge export opportunity when countries like Japan, America and further into Europe start to develop offshore renewable programmes. I want to see people from Glasgow and across Scotland and the UK go out and serve those companies well when they start to emulate the very big programmes that we’re doing here in the UK.”

Strathclyde’s Technology and Innovation Centre – which will bring together academics, researchers, project managers and industry partners across the power, energy and technology sectors – will undoubtedly seek to contribute. The £90m facility, set to open later this year, sits in the heart of Glasgow’s International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone and will, according to Bell, build upon Strathclyde’s existing status as the UK’s national centre for doctoral training in wind and marine energy systems.

“What we’re able to see, I think, is a lot of the companies active in the renewable sector are in competition with each other, especially if they are the developers or the consultancies competing for business, but there’s a lot of issues where they’re happy to collaborate, where there are common issues about progressing the technology,” he says.

“That’s especially true for offshore wind technology where there is massive pressure to try and reduce the cost and to find the useful innovations. Because they’re facing the same kind of challenges, there are real opportunities for sharing some of the learning there. Okay, they’ll then go and apply them in their own ways and try and get commercial advantage, but that kind of fundamental drive for innovation is very strong, especially for offshore.”

As for the wider city, although it failed to land the accolade of European Green Capital for 2015, a decision was taken by the Council to run its own Green Year this year. Events, ranging from a focus on recycling this month through to green jobs in September, have been scheduled over a 12-month period. It will provide the foundation for a renewed bid to become European Green Capital in 2018, reveals Bailie Liz Cameron, chair of Green Year 2015.

“One thing we need to do – and we’re now changing – is we’ve been absolutely amazing at pushing ourselves as a tourist centre, as a sports centre – with the Commonwealth Games – as a centre for culture and creativity, we’re nation leaders in that,” says Cameron. “We’ve been doing equally good work, and sometimes even more astounding, in fields of green science, green technology and promoting sustainability, and I don’t think that we have shouted about it enough.”

The Council already has a 3MW wind turbine at Cathkin Braes while feasibility studies are underway into use of vertical turbines in parks across the city. “We’ll be looking at planning for that before we actually come out with [final proposals] because when you’re looking at parks you’ve got all things to consider like your common good bit, the fact that whatever you do in a park has to be something that you can, in the long run, persuade your citizens is a good use of public land,” says Cameron. “I don’t think that would be the problem it might have been in the past because people are now being encouraged to look at all their spaces being places where greenness applies and where our green future is connected.”

The installation of small hydro schemes is also being explored following the Council revealing its intention earlier this year to construct a micro hydro-electric project in Pollok Country Park that would harness the power of the White Cart river. Meanwhile, vacant and derelict sites in the city are being scoped to assess their suitability for use as mini solar farms, while a £154m Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre in Polmadie is due to be completed next year.

A report on the creation of a proposed Glasgow Energy Services Company (ESCO) – a ‘green’ energy company that could see the council generate its own energy – will go before councillors inside the next six months, confirms Cameron. “We’ve got disadvantaged areas, we’ve got children living in homes that aren’t heated properly, if we’re going to be looking at an ESCO, particularly when it is a public service utility, then you’ve got all sorts of opportunities to help, to look at how you’re going to produce different methods of energy, to how you’re going to make it more affordable, and so you take your people with you – everybody benefits from what the ESCO is set up to be,” she says.

As for the likes of SSE and Scottish Power, Cameron says the power companies are “interested” to see what can be done in collaboration. “But our message to them always is the message that you’ve seen across the globe and in the UK, we must look at ways of reducing both our energy consumption but [also] the way in which citizens have to pay large bills. That is what we should all be setting our minds to because the one goes hand in hand with the other.”   

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