Aquatera Building Grid Links to the Future
An Orkney company’s expertise is helping to shape the debate over how best to deliver renewable energy from areas with the best resources to big centres of population.
Detailed assessments made by environmental consultants Aquatera may be critical to determining the practicality of new grid connections around Scotland and particularly to connecting the Scottish islands.
The Stromness-based company has been examining development strategies for AC (alternating current) and large scale HVDC (high-voltage, direct-current) interconnectors.
Aquatera is also undertaking an EIA (environmental impact assessment) for Scottish and Southern Energy, for the third subsea power cable planned between Orkney and the Scottish mainland.
"Major strategic decisions need to be taken over how best to meet future demand for renewable energy from areas like Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles," said managing director Gareth Davies.
"Over the years, we’ve been building a detailed understanding of the opportunities – and the challenges – that lie ahead.
"Our aim has been to gather and analyse the data needed to inform what will be a highly complex debate – to ensure the right decisions are taken when it comes to the creation of major infrastructure projects like subsea interconnectors.
"Being able to test our understanding and conclusions through participation in a very real project like the Orkney-Caithness inter-connector is an invaluable opportunity for us."
Grid reinforcements to support renewable energy development – including the third Pentland Firth subsea cable - are among the key initiatives included in the recently published National Planning Framework for Scotland.
But there is a growing awareness of the need for further marine interconnectors capable of transmitting substantial amounts of energy from areas like the Northern Isles to major population centres in Scotland and the north of England.
"This has been thrown into sharp focus by the ramping up of European renewable energy targets and by the public inquiry into the Beauly-Denny power line,” said Dr Davies.
"The power line’s capacity would be fully used by on-shore wind energy from the North of Scotland – something that highlights the need for a North Sea or Atlantic cable to deliver power from an area with superb wind, wave and tidal resources like Orkney.
"There’s no doubt that the many gigawatts of renewable energy that’ll be required in future will mean the need for substantial investment in new infrastructure. So early decisions are needed now on where best to generate that energy – and how best to deliver it to the major population centres."
This is a timely moment for such strategic thinking. The National Grid is considering the need for inter-connectors to the north of Scotland and the islands and organisations such as the Crown Estate are taking an active interest in supporting such investments.