It’s only a small country; one that narrowly failed to win independence from the UK in a referendum last year, but businesses in Scotland seem to be powering ahead with independent energy generation. According to energy company SmartestEnergy, the number of Scottish companies, farms and landowners generating their own electricity has risen by 50% in the last year, from 509 in 2013 to 775 organisations last year.
The organizations spent an estimated £90 million during last year to develop new, mainly small-scale wind, hydro, solar and biomass projects that will help to insulate them from rising energy costs, cut carbon emissions and, in some cases to sell excess electricity to the power grid.
Together, the projects, each over 50 kW generating capacity and operating outside the main power companies, generate over £270 million worth of electricity a year, says Smartest, which itself buys and trades electricity from more than 600 independent power projects around the UK.
However, at one site in Scotland, the recent demise of the host business has led to a rather different situation. The descent into administration of Tullis Russell Papermakers in Glenrothes, Fife, and its likely closure, mean big changes for what was Britain’s largest – at 65 MWe generating capacity – biomass-fuelled CHP plant at the site.
Fuelled mainly by recovered wood and operated by RWE Innogy, the Markinch Biomass CHP plant was only opened in March this year, though it had been under development for some time.
At its opening the, plant was hailed as a major success – scheduled to cut the host company’s energy bills by 50% and a major addition to Scotland’s low carbon energy infrastructure. Now, the plant is expected to stay in business as a biomass-to-power-only plant, exporting its output to the grid.
The viability of major CHP and other on-site power plants is always tied up with the current and predicted viability of the host business – Markinch is an unfortunate and large-scale example of how this can go wrong. Nevertheless, in a country which boasts Europe’s oil and gas capital (Aberdeen) and hosts many utility-scale onshore wind farms, many smaller businesses in Scotland are taking the energy independence route to prosperity.