FIVE-HUNDRED and seven million pounds. That’s how much was added onto British energy bills in 2021 alone because of fees the National Grid has to pay wind farms to shut down.

That money – an increase on the £299m which was spent in 2020 for the same reason – was “utterly wasted”, SNP MP Philippa Whitford told the Sunday National, because there is not the capacity to send the renewable power generated in Scotland to where it is needed.

The £806m in “curtailment costs” – 82% of which was paid to wind farms north of the Border – arose because the National Grid has not been upgraded sufficiently to handle the renewable power that Scotland can generate.

But there is an alternative.

READ MORE: Community groups take more than £300,000 in wind farm funds

Excess power generated during times of high wind could instead be put into batteries for later use, or other renewable energy technologies that serve a similar storage function, such as pumped-hydro or green hydrogen.

“At the moment we’re not investing in any of these things that Scotland has immense potential in, and yet we’re paying wind farms to shut off. It just doesn’t make sense,” Whitford (below) said. “The danger is Scotland loses its opportunity.

“The Government haven’t invested in the National Grid. It hasn’t been expanded, the interconnectors that were promised to go out to the islands and also up and down the coast haven’t been built.

“What they do, when it’s going to be too much for the grid to cope with, is they pay the windfarm to turn off and they just lock the turbines.

“If you’re doing that, that is utterly wasted money.”

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Instead of wasting – or not even generating – the excess power, it can be stored in other renewable technologies for future use.

Pumped-storage hydro works by moving water from a low elevation to a high one during times when excess power is available. When supply is lacking, that water is allowed to flow back down, turning a turbine and generating power as it moves.

Green hydrogen is another form of energy storage. It uses excess renewable electricity to split water into its constituent parts: oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be stored for later use.

READ MORE: Scotland can be leader in green hydrogen exports – if UK gets on board, minister says

The two could form part of a wider renewable energy network, covering gaps in supply when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

And with green hydrogen, there is potential for a massive export market. Whitford, as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Germany, said that is something politicians from that country are acutely aware of.

“They’re interested in green hydrogen, and they know they will be based on imports,” she said. “They know they don’t have the water, nor do they have the renewable electricity to make it themselves.”

The National:

But as well as the potential for exports, Whitford argues that pumped-hydro and green hydrogen would work better for storage than batteries.

“Once you’ve built it, as long as you maintain it, that’s it,” she said. “Whereas with lithium ion batteries, you are depending on rare earth minerals and they deteriorate. You won’t get 40 or 50 years out of a battery farm, so it is a much better investment for storing energy.”

A report from BiGGAR Economics, commissioned by Scottish Renewables and published earlier in May, identified six “shovel-ready” pumped-hydro projects in Scotland – if only the UK Government steps up.

The National: Map showing the approximate locations of the six 'shovel-ready' pumped-storage hydro projects slated for ScotlandMap showing the approximate locations of the six 'shovel-ready' pumped-storage hydro projects slated for Scotland (Image: Google/NQ)

SSE, the firm behind one of those potential projects, has been running adverts in the Politico London newsletter to try and get action from the UK Government.

The adverts in the newsletter, which is widely read by those in Westminster, says: “Our £1.5bn+ Coire Glas pumped-hydro storage project could power 3m homes with clean energy, even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. We just need one simple policy decision. It’s time to act.”

READ MORE: Scottish hydro power projects are doomed unless Westminster makes changes

Whitford said she agreed, adding: “It’s urgent to get a system of investment that rewards companies, individuals, bonds, or whatever to actually invest in building these critical pieces of national infrastructure – which the government should also be looking at putting money into.”

She went on: “The UK Government’s not invested enough in energy infrastructure or this, which is energy security. That’s what I don’t understand. If you don’t start now then the dates about when they’re expected to come onstream [between 2027 and 2034] just won’t be happening.”

But rapid movement from the Tory government seems unlikely. No new pumped-storage hydro projects have been commissioned in the UK since the 1980s, with the first set up in the 1960s. But despite the proven pedigree of the technology, Tory ministers appear “ignorant” of what it is.

Speaking in the Commons earlier this week, Scotland Office Minister John Lamont referred to pumped-storage hydro as a “new technology”. While speaking at a Holyrood committee in April, Networks Minister Andrew Bowie called hydro a “nascent” one.

“If they’re that ignorant about it, then that’s part of the problem,” Whitford said. “And for that to be two Scottish MPs, Lamont and Bowie, not knowing about pumped-storage hydro is pretty ignorant.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK has blazed a trail globally for green growth, having already attracted billions for over a decade in green investment and there is huge potential still.

“Scotland has played a key role in this and has benefited hugely from this work. Our plans to power up Britain are expected to attract a further £100 billion investment and support 480,000 jobs across the UK by 2030.

“While we cannot comment on specific projects, the Government is committed to facilitating the deployment of electricity storage in the UK, including government investment in pumped-hydro storage.”

The figures quoted on wind power curtailment costs come from a report compiled by Lane Clark & Peacock and commissioned by Drax, another energy firm looking to develop a pumped-hydro storage project in Scotland.