The Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at the North Highland College is leading the three-year study sponsored by the EPSRC’s SUPERGEN initiative.
Project supervisor Dr John McClatchey, a senior research fellow at the ERI, said the research has major significance for Scotland as the government recently announced new targets for 80 per cent generation from renewable sources by 2020.
The project will focus on the Pentland Firth, which has the first Crown Estate licences for tidal and wave power, and the potential of marine wind energy in the North Sea off the Caithness and Sutherland coast.
McClatchey said: ‘We’re going to be looking at these three resources and how their output varies through time together. So in other words, where there are clear deficiencies.’
In addition to modelling supply shortfall, he said the project will also take into account periods of excess supply and the potential need for energy storage solutions. He added: ‘We also have to think of the implications for hydropower, which is used as an important backup system because it can be switched on instantaneously.’
McClatchey said the project’s PhD student will gather 20 years of meteorological data and statistics for the Pentland Firth. This will be combined with observations taken by ERI researchers and information from renewable energy turbine developers on the output of their devices.
While Edinburgh University conducted a similar study on matching renewable generated electricity supply and demand several years ago, McClatchey said it suffered limitations because it looked at a much wider area of Scotland with a relatively short time scale.
It makes more sense to focus on a specific region, he explained, because it is impossible to represent the winds blowing on a renewable installation in the Westlands and the gusts off the coast of the Pentland Firth as a single figure. More importantly, he said, looking at decades of statistics will help filter out any anomalies.
McClatchey added that it will be impossible to have a 100 per cent accurate prediction of Scotland’s future energy supply considering it will depend heavily on something as wild and variable as renewables. But he hopes the results of his study will be useful for governments and utilities planning future renewable energy installations.