Major grid breakthrough comes as research project on Orkney reveals plans to use cutting-edge 5G-powered digital twin technology to encourage locals and businesses to engage with clean energy future
A proposal to build a 600MW subsea power cable between Shetland and the Scottish mainland has been given preliminary approval by energy regulator Ofgem, in welcome news for renewables developers hoping to tap the northerly island's powerful winds.
A final decision will be taken after an eight-week consultation process that starts today. Approval is also contingent upon the regulator being satisfied by the end of the year that the 457MW Viking Energy wind farm planned for the main island is set to go ahead.
On top of allowing wind and solar farms in Shetland to export renewable electricity to the mainland for the first time, the link will firm up electricity supply on Shetland, the archipelago that forms the most northerly point in Britain.
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: "Today's announcement will help stimulate economic growth as the economy recovers from Covid-19, as well as unlocking Shetland's potential to supply low-cost renewable electricity for consumers across Great Britain."
The proposal was recently resubmitted by Scottish and Southern Electricity Network after Ofgem rejected the original plans last autumn following the failure of the Viking Energy wind project to secure a clean energy contract in September's Contracts for Difference auction.
But the developers of the long-planned wind project say they are committed to building the 103-turbine project regardless. In a statement published on its website today, Viking Energy Wind Farm LLP welcomed the approval from Ofgem and emphasised that the project is "consented and shovel-ready".
"VEWF now awaits a timely final decision by Ofgem after this consultation to progress the project in line with its planned build programme," it wrote. "Despite not securing a Contract for Difference in the UK government's auction for low carbon power, VEWF remains fully committed to building the Viking Wind Farm and intends to take its final investment decision as soon as possible."
The transmission line's pending approval and the connection of wind-rich Shetland promises to deliver a further boost to the UK's fast-expanding renewables capacity.
The next Contracts for Difference auction, scheduled for 2021, is already set to be fiercely competitive due to the inclusion of onshore wind and solar PV projects for the first time since 2015. Just last week, analytics firm Cornwall Insight estimated that around 13GW of clean energy projects are lining up to take part in the auction, with the lion's share of planned onshore wind capacity - 3.8GW out of the total 4.3GW - in Scotland.
The move from Ofgem comes on the same day as a new energy research project was announced in Orkney, the archipelago some 80km southwest of Shetland towards the Scottish mainland. Researchers revealed today that they intend to build a 5G-powered 'digital twin' - in other words, a virtual 3D environment - that models the Orkney islands and the various components of its energy system, including electric vehicles, domestic batteries, generators, and wind turbines, in a bid to engage locals with the energy transition.
The "immersive simulator system" will be used to encourage members of the public and businesses to participate in the development of a new energy system for the island, while explaining "what can be achieved through new energy networks and the digital control enabled by 5G", the researchers said.
The project is spearheaded by researchers at Heriot-Watt and supported by The Scotland 5G Centre, who said the initiative is unique in that "so far, the use of decentralised energy networks and 5G infrastructure has largely been restricted to engineers and technology specialists".
"Our digital twinning system will demonstrate how Orkney's new energy network will operate, what the different component parts are, how people can interact with it and collaborate to create a genuinely democratised energy system," said David Richardson, chief entrepreneurial executive at Heriot-Watt University. "It will be an engagement tool that helps people understand how they can get involved in helping the island maximise renewable energy and, ultimately, achieve a carbon neutral future. The system will show people what can be taken from the virtual world and made into a physical reality, helping communities to flourish with the use of renewable technology."
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