On the 8th of March 2021, Scotland-based researchers from engineering, environmental science, and multidisciplinary backgrounds met online to discuss the development and application of renewable energy technology in the Arctic. The theme of this networking meeting was Renewable Energy Technology with a focus on exploring how to enhance collaboration between Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations in Scotland-Arctic research.
This event was the ninth and final event in a network series titled “Scotland’s Role and Contribution in a Changing Arctic Environment” supported by the Scottish Government through the Nordic and Arctic Unit Directorate for External Affairs. These network events intend to lay the foundation for consolidating Scottish expertise on Arctic matters and build an interdisciplinary network for more consistent involvement of Scottish institutions in Arctic research and international forums.
This event featured a brilliant line-up of speakers to showcase some interesting Scotland-Arctic research within the field of Renewable Energy Technology and proceeded to an open discussion with attendees to explore future opportunities for meaningful engagement in Scotland and Arctic contexts. A recording of the event is available online – click here. If you attended the session, or watched the recording, and wanted to contribute further thoughts and join a dedicated Scotland-Arctic mailing list, you can by filling out this survey – click here. Below is a summary of key remarks and contributions.
Professor Andrew Rae, Professor of Engineering at the University of Highlands and Islands chaired the event and outlined the aims of the network event. He highlighted that over the years, educational research links between Scotland and the Arctic have continued to grow in strength. Professor Rae has only been involved in academia for the past 10 years, previously working in industry with a background in aircraft and racing car design. Within research, Professor Rae is interested in applying the techniques that are used to design complex systems like, for example, a racing car or a plane, to new applications, including renewable energy, an area of research that is relevant to both Scottish and Arctic contexts. He then moved on to discuss Scottish-Arctic research and underlines that research expertise in Scotland extends beyond natural and physical science towards the humanities, social science, politics law, energy law as well as environmental and energy management. Despite these many research strengths from Scottish based institutions, Professor Rae commented that this research, is still fragmented in many aspects.
Magnus Davidson, Researcher at the Environmental Research Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands was the first speaker at the event and presented some of the challenges relating to renewable energy generation in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. He highlighted that a regional approach to renewable energy can be very beneficial, especially in Arctic contexts. Scotland is known as a world leader in renewable energy, however Magnus Davidson pointed out that a lot of the generation is found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and stated that the Highlands and Islands are Scotland’s powerhouse for renewable energy. The region generates a lot more electricity than it consumes, producing 25% of Scotland’s renewable electricity. This is more than any other local authority area. Magnus Davidson highlighted that Scotland shares some of the same challenges that many Arctic regions have, particularly around remote and rural communities, as well some core-periphery dynamics. The Arctic also has similar successful energy generating regions with similar socio-economic challenges. He commented that the Highlands and Islands are leading technology innovation, with wave technology and tidal stream technology (the worlds longest tidal stream is in Caithness) and has examples of successful community owned energy systems like Eigg Electric. There is a lot of community energy projects and community energy expertise that Scotland could hopefully share with Arctic neighbours. There is a lot of challenges that the Scottish Highlands and Islands have experienced, and lessons learned from this could be useful for other regions in Arctic. Despite being a net electricity exporter there are very high costs for energy in the Highlands and Islands. This has led to high levels of fuel poverty and is an ongoing challenge for many. Sustainable Transport is another socio-economic challenge for many Scottish and Arctic regions and Magnus Davidson highlights some of the research into sustainable aviation that is happening in the Highlands and Islands and underlined that exploring sustainable transport opportunities in the region, could assist in achieving net zero aims, particularly for aviation which is a lifeline service and certainly not a luxury for remote communities. This is just one example, there are lots of opportunities to share learning and promote knowledge exchange with Arctic neighbours. Magnus Davidson highlighted that a lot of learning and collaboration opportunities were facilitated via the European Union or links within Europe and concluded that this could be a challenge post Brexit.
Professor Gisele M Arruda, Honorary Tutor at the University of Aberdeen and Social Scientist at Anvivo Polar Research and US Arctic Committee was the next speaker and shared some perspectives on renewable energy from a recent project Professor Arruda was involved in within the Arctic. A book was one of the main outputs of this research project and mapped most of the important renewable energy projects that are currently installed and under development. It documented various modalities of highly technological renewable energy projects across the Arctic. The book also examined the adverse effects of fossil fuels extraction and use and considered the social impacts of climate change as well as explored how to shape a low carbon energy system through innovation and technology. Professor Arruda commented that as well as producing renewable energy it is important to consider energy efficiency. This is an important finding from this research. Innovative energy solutions are needed for the Arctic but there are challenges, related to socio-environmental risks. Affordable energy strategy is needed with an integrated approach to sustainable energy that meets the social needs of rural – off grid communities. Professor Arruda commented that the technological and innovative renewable energy approaches from smart grids based on solar and wind resources could be part of the solution. They have provided a new horizon of durable energy access to Arctic off-grid remote communities. Access to these technologies promotes local capabilities and co-design and co-management is essential for success. The development of a sustainable vision that incorporates the multicultural values of indigenous polar communities would require, in practice, a democratic, collaborative format of governance inspired in authentic co-management. Professor Arruda concluded by highlighting the Arctic has an important role as a powerhouse for renewable energy for Europe and the UK. There are important interconnectors that can balance intermittent renewables and increase market efficiency. This is an opportunity for Scotland to advance our knowledge on important renewable energy developments.
Professor Greg Poelzer, Lead of UArctic Thematic Network on Renewable Energy and Fulbright Scholar at University of Saskatchewan was the final speaker at the event and presented perspectives on renewable energy and the “Unexceptional Arctic”. Professor Poelzer highlighted that he deliberately chose the word unexceptional because we often think of the Arctic as exceptional, and in many ways, it is, but in many others, it is not and there is a tremendous amount that we can learn from other regions and globally, especially in relation to renewable energy. Scotland, for example, has been a global leader in terms of energy technologies, in particular community energy projects and community engagement. Professor Poelzer is from Saskatchewan, in Western Canada. Here there can be extreme climate, not unlike parts of the circum-polar north. He commented that the Arctic shares similarities with Scotland in many regards. The Arctic has a central connected energy grid across the Arctic, with the exemption of the three mainland countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland. There is also regional grids as well as off-grid communities. Professor Poelzer commented that there are therefore enormous opportunities for learning and enormous implications globally. Approximately 1 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity and there is another roughly 1 billion people who are electrically islanded or are on weak-tide grid. Reinforcing that the renewable energy lessons are important for the Arctic and Scotland, but also globally too. He highlighted that in Canada, indigenous peoples make up around 5% of the population. There are over 200 off-grid communities and indigenous people’s communities make up around half of these communities. There are close to 300 community owned projects. Professor Poelzer suggested that there is needed to be more research on the value proposition for community led energy projects that provide electricity services. The challenges for community renewable energy projects include challenges around human capacity (different types of training and knowledge is required), financial capital and policy and regulations. There needs to be changes to policy and regulations so that they can be more responsive to de-centralised energy distribution, production and customer service. Professor Poelzer underlines that collaborative and comparative research will be the key to addressing these challenges, as well as moving beyond viewing the Arctic as exceptional. Both Scotland and areas of the Arctic, as well as other places across the world, face the same challenges in terms of access to electricity for remote communities and extreme weather. The co-creation and sharing of knowledge and capacity is very important within this research. Professor Poelzer concluded by highlighting what Scotland has to offer, suggesting this includes experience relating to the socio-economic impacts of community wind power projects, funding advice for community renewable energy projects and perspectives on the local impacts of community renewable energy.
Numerous Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations were represented in the meeting: University of Dundee, University of Stirling, Strathclyde University, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Highlands and Islands, and Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). We were also joined by researchers from various UArctic affiliated institutions and interested members of the public and civil society.
Attendees discussed opportunities and barriers to Scotland-Arctic research, the potential benefit of this research to people in Scotland and the Arctic, and strengths and weaknesses of Scottish research in the Arctic. Below is a summary of responses:
Barriers and weaknesses
- A lot of the renewable energy benefits are experienced further South (reference to fuel poverty and high energy prices despite producing high amounts of renewable electricity in the same vicinity).
- The barrier of Green Colonialism. There is a lot of anger and uncertainty about wind power installation being put up in rural areas and disrupting local economies.
- If every country took on its own share of renewable energy generation to meet current and future demands, there is a considerable shortage in installed capacity.
- There are environmental challenges associated with some renewables that need to be resolved carefully.
- Large utility based renewable power projects are often rejected by local communities, but this does not mean that they are against renewable energy, they often have not been consulted or feel like they have a voice. If the community have control, if they own the land and they own the development, attitudes can be very positive.
- Other countries are closer to the Arctic than Scotland.
- Challenges relating to leaving the EU.
- In Scotland there is an ageing population in areas that are energy rich (for generation).
- There is no point having green transport if you do not have green energy to fuel it.
Opportunities and strengths
- Opportunities include events like this, online events that break down some of the geographical barriers. It also provides opportunities for remote learning for those living in remote communities.
- Opportunity to meet like this quarterly – a suggestion to make this a recurring event to share knowledge and experience.
- Opportunity to explore how to add value to renewable energy technologies so that the benefits can be felt closer to home (where the energy is generated). Reference to Facebook Data Servers in Sweden that are provide opportunities and involve renewable energy use.
- Not all the challenges for renewable energy are technical, providing opportunities for collaborative working to solve problems.
- Decentralising power and ownership of energy will have unintended consequences that could be beneficial, and more attention should be focused on this.
- Opportunity to tie renewable energy, renewable energy generation, right back to rural communities, making them more resilient.
- Renewable energy is bankable which allows predictable revenue generation. This is a potential game changer in stabilisation in rural communities.
- Strength in Scottish Higher Education institutions and the Scottish Government with their commitment to renewable energy, especially when it comes to engagement at the community level. Scotland should take great pride in some of the work they are doing and get that out there globally, it is really important work.
- Interdisciplinarity of research and looking at the problem from a number of different perspectives and a holistic perspective is really important.