THE potential for remote and rural communities across Scotland’s west coast to tap into community-owned renewable energy schemes may be greater than previously thought, researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have said.

Dr Emma Whettall has become the first of the Scottish-based Bryden Centre students to achieve a PhD and in doing so identified 33 sites along Scotland's west coast – including 15 new locations – where small-scale tidal energy devices could be considered.

The Bryden Centre is run by UHI and partners in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and its cross-border PhD programme was launched in 2018 to train the next generation of renewable energy researchers.

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Whettall, who studied at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, now works in the Highlands and Islands as an environmental modeller.

She said the west coast of Scotland had a large number of islands and inlets which, in physical terms, are ideal for harnessing tidal energy.

“We looked for sites that were physically suited to supporting a tidal energy device and identified 33 sites, 15 of which had not previously been considered,” she said.

“Based on our findings, these sites would definitely warrant further investigation, as other factors such as environmental and social impacts would have to be considered too. There is great potential around community ownership of energy but also issues over scale and cost.”

The National: A tidal energy turbine, developed by Nova InnovationA tidal energy turbine, developed by Nova Innovation

Whettall identified sites using a computer model devised by researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI. Flow speed and power potential of these sites were then explored in more detail through a low-cost method developed as part of Emma's PhD work, using an SLR camera at a vantage point to capture images of the tidal flow every two seconds.

The Bryden Centre is named after the late University of the Highlands and Islands Professor Ian Bryden, who was a leading expert in marine renewable energy. It is funded by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme and is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Damian Collins, who leads the Bryden Centre, said: “Emma's work is an indication of the potential for small-scale tidal energy schemes, and whilst her research focused on the west coast of Scotland, there are many other tidal resources across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland that could have the potential to realise small-scale energy schemes.”

Meanwhile, SSE has announced details of its first solar project that will deliver 30MW of clean energy as part of its £12.5 billion investment programme to power change towards net zero.

SSE said it is committed to deploying renewable energy technologies and has bought the development rights for its first solar project in England from developer Stark Energy.

READ MORE: Scotland generated almost a quarter of UK's green energy in 2020

The 30MW solar farm at Littleton Pastures is located near Evesham in Worcestershire and when complete in late 2023, the 77-acre site will be capable of powering around 9400 homes.

The energy firm’s distributed energy team is developing opportunities of over 1GW in solar and battery storage technology and recently announced its first 50MW battery storage project in Wiltshire.

Richard Cave-Bigley, SSE sector director for distributed generation and storage, said Littleton solar farm would be the first of many such projects.

“Today is a significant milestone for SSE with the acquisition of our first solar project and shows our serious ambitions in this market,” he said.

“We see solar as a key complementary technology to SSE’s existing portfolio of low carbon infrastructure such as wind and hydro and one that can power us towards net zero.

“Last year we announced our first battery storage project, and we are fully focused on developing over 1GW of solar and battery technology. We look forward to being able to announce further solar and battery projects during 2022.”

Anthony Brindle, managing director of Stark Energy, added: “SSE has a strong track record of constructing and operating renewable energy projects in the United Kingdom and we are delighted to be working with them on our Littleton project.”