Aberdeen and Surrounds

In part thanks to jagging a few solid days of glorious, sunny weather, my first few days here in Scotland have been both interesting and really enjoyable. My time has been split between Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and the north-east of Angus County (specifically Montrose), and I’ve had a really diverse group of stakeholders across industry, community, academia, NRM, economic development and government to engage with.

Whilst the focus has been the offshore wind sector, this has spilt over into the broader energy transition for this oil and gas-rich area into CCS, hydrogen and themes around workforce transition and skills development.

Like the US before it, particularly the transitioning oil and gas regions, there have been some key themes:

  • There is concern that the timing between the decline of fossil fuels (and the associated jobs and economic benefits) will not neatly dovetail into the rise of renewables and the low-carbon economy
  • Whilst there is transferability between the offshore hydrocarbon sector’s skill sets, and those which are required by emerging low-carbon industry, it’s not complete overlap, and work needs to be done in that transition
    • Likewise, it’s acknowledged that there’s not equivalency between the number of jobs required by the oil and gas sector and the renewables sector (particularly in project operations)
  • The economics need to make sense for industry to act (whether this been supported by incentives/regulation or broader macroeconomic forces)

That said, there’s certainly a significant – and growing – offshore wind sector in this part of the world. I was fortunate to meet up with the team behind the Seagreen project (at 1075MW, Scotland’s current largest), as well as local Community Council and Port representatives – as with a lot of the renewables projects I’d encountered in the US, again there were some consistent themes:

  • Transmission is providing to be a barrier to projects, currently curtailment is an issue at Seagreen
  • The permitting process is still a long and time-consuming one
  • Early engagement from proponents is important in terms of building social licence; the permitting process doesn’t always require or support this

A few specific matters were raised, that I thought were salient to both offshore and onshore projects:

  • Engaging early with community to determine the no-go zones (and zones which are acceptable) for development is important
    • This was particularly important in terms of working with the fishing industry for offshore projects, and hasn’t always been something that’s been done well
  • Supporting project siting (or project push-back from industry) with data is far more compelling; there are examples of the fishing industry being supported to collect data to help them identify key zones to exclude from offshore wind development
    • The UK (via the Crown Estate, and their long history of offshore oil and gas) has a fairly detailed understanding of the offshore environment, and associated data-set; I’m not clear on what we would have in Australia, or WA, but suspect it would be less robust
  • Whilst there has been some directly community benefit flowing from the projects, the role of the projects growing and supporting the Ports has been highlighted. Whilst the project proponents are generally not local, and not seen as part of the community, the Ports are a different story. They are usually large, local employers and contribute to both the economic and social fabric off the local town and their prospering off the back of offshore wind projects is a net positive.
  • To state the obvious, visual amenity impacts vary greatly depending up on how far offshore the project is. The Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm (just 3km off the coast is very noticeable, much to the ire of the nearby Trump International Golf Club). Seagreen is about 27km offshore (which is more like what’s being proposed in Australia) and barely visible on a clear day. See the photos below for comparison. The Seagreen photo is at 10x zoom.

There’s far more to the transition here; I haven’t even touched on some of the future CCS and offshore floating wind that is currently in development – or the really interesting engagement work being done by the James Hutton Institute, or their HydroGlen farm project – which could serve as a model for off-grid/low-carbon farms worldwide.

What has been encouraging though, is the series of repeating through-lines in all this work. Whilst there is definitely regional and sectoral contextualisation, similar themes are emerging across the board, this hopefully means greater transferability in terms of this work back to the WA/Australian context.

As a post-script, I have also not waded into the Scottish Government meltdown that coincided with my arrival here (correlation, not causation). The cause: A breakdown in a power-sharing agreement between the ruling SNP and the Greens over the inability of the Government to meet its previously announced climate targets, plunging the SNP into minority government and cementing them as a target of no confidence motions. There seems to be a tacit recognition in many developed nations that some (especially 2030) targets are ambitious and might not get reached, but this is a great example, writ large, of one possible outcome when those targets aren’t hit.

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