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EIB Offer Largest Ever Loan for Windfarm

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The European Investment Bank (EIB) has agreed to support the construction of the Beatrice windfarm in Scotland. The £525 million loan is record breaking – it is the single largest investment for an offshore wind project the EIB has ever supported. Construction of the windfarm will begin next year.

The Beatrice windfarm is to be built 14 km off the Caithness coast, near Wick in north-east Scotland. It is the first project in Scotland to be supported by the new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the heart of the Investment Plan for Europe, intended to generate EUR 315 billion of new investment across Europe.

Paul Cooley, Director of Renewables at SSE, said: “We are delighted that Beatrice has achieved financial close and we are extremely grateful for all of the support received throughout the development of the project from stakeholders such as the Scottish Government, DECC, HIE, the Highland Council, Moray Council and local communities. Contracts have already been placed with many UK based suppliers, and Siemens intend to undertake turbine blade construction from Siemen’s new manufacturing facility in Hull.

“Today’s decision reaffirms SSE’s commitment to offshore wind and we are proud to progress such a flagship project for the Scottish offshore wind industry and the UK’s skilled supply chain. It shows SSE will continue to play its part in investing in the critical energy infrastructure the country needs to power homes across the UK both today and in the future.

“Around £10 million of investment is planned at Wick Harbour to house the wind farm’s operations and maintenance facilities and improving the existing RNLI facilities. We expect a peak of around 65 jobs during construction of the Operations and Maintenance base with around 90 long-term jobs anticipated during the operational phase.”

The 86 turbine Beatrice windfarm will generate up to 588 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity equivalent to the energy needs of more than 475 thousand homes and is expected to be fully operational in 2019.

The new wind farm will cost more than £2.7 billion and be built by Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited, a partnership formed between SSE, SDIC Power and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Construction and operation of the Beatrice windfarm will support job creation, skills training opportunities and opportunities for local businesses in both the Moray and Highland regions of Scotland.

Jonathan Taylor, Vice President at European Investment Bank, said: “Investment in offshore wind is crucial to harnessing the full potential of Scotland’s renewable energy resources. The European Investment Bank is one of the world’s largest lenders for renewable energy and our backing for Beatrice represents the EIB’s largest ever support for offshore wind investment. We are pleased to provide £525 million to support construction of the Beatrice windfarm that will strengthen renewable energy generation in Scotland. This also represents the first Scottish scheme to be backed by the new European Fund for Strategic Investments. EIB backing for energy investment across the UK demonstrates our firm commitment to supporting ambitious energy projects that create jobs and benefit local companies.”

The Beatrice windfarm will use a new generation of Siemens 7MW Wind Turbines with 154-meter diameter rotor blades. The wind turbines, the largest generally available, will each be more than 190m high, taller than the Gherkin building in the City of London. The wind farm will be controlled and operated from a base at Wick, with access to the wind farm primarily by Crew Transfer Vessel as well as by helicopters.

Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said: “The UK is the world leader in offshore wind and this industry, backed by the UK Government and benefiting from our access to the EU single market, is a success story going from strength to strength. This project will provide home-grown clean energy boosting skills and creating jobs and financial security for working people and their families in Scotland, and across the UK.

“This is great news for the industry and I congratulate the owners SSE, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and SDIC Power on achieving this significant milestone in the development of this multi-billion pound infrastructure project.”

The £525 million 19 year long-term European Investment Bank loan will support more than £2.7 billion of overall investment. Part of the European Investment Bank loan will be guaranteed under the European Fund for Strategic Investments.

The European Fund for Strategic Investments was established last year by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission to enable increased lending crucial projects by the European Investment Bank in strategic sectors such as renewable energy, digital infrastructure, social infrastructure, transport and research and development, as well as financing for small and medium enterprises.

Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy in the Scottish Government, said: “The Beatrice Offshore Windfarm has the opportunity to deliver so much to Caithness and Scotland as a whole, in terms of employment and community benefit. Scotland’s renewables sector is stronger than ever and our early adoption of clean, green energy technology and infrastructure was the right thing to do. Renewables are now Scotland’s biggest electricity generator, and nearly half of gross electricity consumption comes from renewables. Scotland is well on course to meet its interim renewables target and is delivering a strong contribution to global climate efforts. I look forward to this project contributing to our green energy mix.”

Maroš Šefcovic, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Energy Union, said: “Thanks to the Investment Plan and the European Investment Bank, we are getting closer to reaching our COP21 goals. Already the European Fund for Strategic Investments has helped to finance sustainable, green investments across the EU worth billions of euros. Indeed more than half of the EFSI projects approved so far are in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green investment. There’s a business case – it’s time to invest.”

SSE is working closely with local businesses to create a sustainable local supply chain, advertise opportunities for local suppliers and provide opportunities for local firms to benefit from investment in Scotland’s power infrastructure.

In the last ten years the European Investment Bank has provided more than £4 billion for direct investment in Scotland, with additional investment from UK wide programmes. This has included transport, education, social housing, transport, water, energy, urban regeneration and new hospital investment across the Scotland, alongside additional investment from UK wide programmes.

The European Investment Bank is the world’s largest international public bank and is 16 per cent owned by the UK government.

Over the last decade the European Investment Bank has provided more than £10 billion for investment in energy infrastructure across the UK including renewable energy schemes, national transmission networks and regional power distribution as well as inter-connectors to Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

Lending by the EIB in the UK last year totalled £5.6 billion and supported long-term investment in 40 projects across the country.  This represented the largest annual engagement since the start of EIB lending in the UK in 1973 which has supported nearly £16 billion of overall investment.

Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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Energy

How Much Energy Does Bitcoin Use, Really?

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how much energy bitcoin requires
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Chinnapong | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/noipornpan

Many headlines have capitalized on the rapid rise of Bitcoin’s value. However, there’s a darker side of things that may entirely escape people’s awareness — the vast energy usage associated with Bitcoin mining. The practice involves adding information about transactions to a publicly accessible record called the blockchain.

Bitcoin miners increase the amounts of the cryptocurrency they own by being involved in mining. That means there is a built-in incentive to start mining and keep doing it. The energy consumption associated with mining may not be as visible as it is in traditional types of mining because everything happens in the digital realm — however, it’s exceptionally high, which is a cause of concern to many individuals in the know.

The Rise in Value Brings About Higher Energy Consumption

It’s not hard to find impressive headlines and news stories about how the value of Bitcoin has soared over the last few months. Many people even suspect they’ll soon witness the inevitable burst of a “Bitcoin bubble.” Miners are taking advantage of the current boom, though, which involves depending on power-sapping computers and related equipment.

In the early days of Bitcoin, it was possible to mine on basic home computer setups. Now, the most dedicated miners invest in the best computers around. In some cases, that means the machines they use are quite energy efficient, which is a good thing. However, the purchase of equipment that uses electricity well isn’t enough to make a significant dent in the overall Bitcoin energy usage.

The Approximate Energy Usage Statistics Vary

When you start doing in-depth research about just how much energy consumption Bitcoin demands, be prepared to come across many different figures. Although people are doing diligent research, they still can’t reach an agreement. For example, according to statistics from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, the annual energy usage is just under 32 terawatt hours.

That’s the estimate for per-year energy use of Serbia and more than 150 other countries. However, analysts find it impossible to reach a unified conclusion about the per-transaction energy consumption for Bitcoins.

Figures from Digiconomist estimate one Bitcoin transaction takes 255 kilowatt-hours of power — or enough to power an American household for more than eight days. Marc Bevand, another analyst, disagrees with that figure, though his remarks on the matter are not as specific. He discusses how many of the highly publicized statistics fail to account for the technological innovations that occur as equipment improves.

He gives the example of an S9, which is a standard piece of Bitcoin equipment, claiming 16% of the S9’s revenues went towards electricity costs. If that figure is more accurate, it would mean each Bitcoin transaction uses enough power to keep an American residence going for just under four days.

Bitcoin Miners May Be Able to Branch Out From Cryptocurrency

Some Bitcoin miners are attracted to their trade for more reasons than just the lucrative and ballooning prices of the coins. People from a wide variety of industries, from banking to insurance, are looking at uses for blockchain technology. In the insurance sector, fraud costs $40 billion per year, but the verification method that miners understand and work with dramatically reduces fraud and makes blockchain appealing to insurance professionals.

Also, banks are increasingly researching Blockchain as a supplement to their current methods. As the prominence in the market goes up, the allure of being a Bitcoin miner does, too.

Also, going back to Bitcoin specifically, as the value of each coin goes up, people become more motivated than ever to invest in better technologies that help them remain profitable for as long as possible. When all these factors combine, it’s not hard to understand why energy consumption rises.

Do Banks Use More Energy Than Bitcoins?

Some analysts argue that even if the energy demanded by Bitcoins is exceptionally high, it’s still not at the level of energy used by banks. To keep things in perspective, it’s important to realize that the banking industry keeps its total energy usage figures under wraps, leaving people to do lots of speculating.

One analyst determined there are approximately 30,000 banks in the world, and each one has ATM networks, offices and other components that require electricity. When adding all the relevant factors together, the final figure this individual came up with is that banks use about 100 terawatts of power per year, less than the earlier-cited figure related to Bitcoins.

However, people have given opinions that the amount is too conservative. It does not include the energy used by bank employees, such as when employees drive to their offices or fly to meet clients. It bears mentioning, though, that the Bitcoin figures mentioned in this piece probably don’t either.

There are countless statistics about Bitcoin energy usage, and most of them are not promising. But instead of reading a few of them and immediately feeling shocked, it’s important for people to take a broad look at the findings and reach their own intelligent conclusions based on the collective research.

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