Scotland – The answer is blowing in the wind

ANTARCTICA’S Commonwealth Bay is widely acknowledged as the windiest place on earth, with winds often reaching speeds of more than 200mph.

While not as blustery, Scotland is the windiest country in Europe, with around 25% of the continent’s wind resource.

So it is no surprise that we are playing a leading role in the development of wind energy, now a prominent component of electricity generation in Scotland.

However, will the harvest of such an abundant resource on our doorstep take off in 2011?

Wind energy has always been susceptible to some negative sentiment as a result of its intermittent availability, however, that may now be a thing of the past. The innovative Hydrogen Office facility in Fife, which opened last month, will store clean energy, using a hydrogen and fuel cell system, for times when renewable power output is limited, thereby balancing supply and demand across the grid.

Certainly onshore wind has demonstrated significant growth in recent years and, with capacity of more than 2GW, it now accounts for more than half the installed renewable energy capacity in Scotland. With established technology, the steady growth in onshore wind is set to continue, positioning it as a key driver of the government’s renewable electricity targets.

While still in its infancy in Scotland, offshore wind harbours much more ambitious targets. Elsewhere in the UK, giant offshore wind farms have already cemented the UK as the world’s largest offshore wind energy producer, responsible for almost half of Europe’s installed offshore capacity.

With more than 7,000 new wind turbines expected to be constructed off the UK coast over the next decade, the potential in offshore wind energy provides our indigenous Scottish oilfield services and manufacturing companies with a real opportunity for revenue growth in the medium term. Our unparalleled offshore engineering skills from decades of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea are perfectly suited to the manufacture, installation and maintenance of offshore renewables projects.

One of the more significant barriers to offshore wind development is the huge financial investment needed for construction. This investment will only come when the returns are sufficient to attract the riskier forms of finance. The pace of development is slower than many would hope and there have already been some high-profile casualties in the developing supply chain.

However the positive indicators suggest that this is a matter of timing rather than a failing of the entire industry. The Scottish Government has been very vocal in its support for the sector – the £70million fund, established in late 2010, to work in partnership with private sector investment to develop and support the infrastructure around Scottish ports and those companies that are able to provide manufacturing, operations and maintenance services to the sector is just one indicator of this.

The key for those Scottish companies that want to succeed in this field is taking advantage of the enormous interest in Scotland’s offshore wind power potential by the large multinational corporate players.