Why is Scotland the best place to Study Renewable Energy?

When it comes to renewable energy education, one should look no further than Scotland. Scotland’s ambitious target to reduce emissions by the highest percentage (42%) among all participating nations in Kyoto protocol has made it a leading player in Renewable Energy Technology. As of October 2014,  Scotland produced enough electricity to power 100% of its households electricity through renewable alone. By the year 2020, it aims to produce not just electricity but all of its energy from Renewables.

At a time when other OECD countries were gripped by uncertainty, Scotland put its foot down in reducing emissions and serious gains since have been made. Unlike other countries, Scotland acknowledged the need of the time and wholeheartedly embraced the Kyoto challenge. Being a country blessed with abundant resources and renewed political will, it recognized the harmful effects of global warming and furthered its renewable potential.

Cruachan Power Plant

Sight to behold Cruachan Pumped Storage

Today, Scotland sits comfortably as a net energy exporter and is moving towards an intra-continental infrastructure that further enhances grid stability and energy security. And it is this push for renewables that has made Scotland a hub of knowledge for students.

Listed below are five reasons why one should opt for Scotland as their destination for education and career in Renewable energy technology.

1. Academic Excellence

Scotland has been imparting renewable energy education for decades.  In the early days of  renewable energy technology, it was seen as an offshoot of Mechanical/ Electrical engineering and only post-graduate courses were offered. The rapid growth in the areas of wind, solar, wave, tidal and biomass energy  has now made it a field in its own right. Several new subject areas like resource calculation, smart grid management, wind farm design are exclusive to renewables and have been adopted in the curriculum in many under/post graduate courses. The general affinity of Scots towards achieving sustainability in lifestyles has helped the acceptance of  renewables earlier than in many other countries.

Scotland also has been  at the forefront of pioneering research. For example, Steven Salter’s duck that kick started the wave energy technology was conceived in Edinburgh.  Going back further, Stirling engine-  a zero emission engine used in Solar Dish systems- was also conceived in Scotland. In spite of the fact that Scotland is not renowned for sunny climate, there has been ample research in both solar PV and solar thermal technologies. It is a country that can boasts a rich heritage of innovation in the field of Renewable energy technology.

It is not just the universities but also colleges that offer renewable courses in Scotland.  To accommodate distance learning, online courses are also an option. The teaching faculty  have published pioneering research papers that when combined run in thousands. A -class laboratories and research facilities are available for experimentation alongside a cornucopia of technical expertise.

Steven Salter's Duck

Salter’s Duck, Pioneered in Edinburgh

2. Abundant Renewable Resources

Scotland’s interest in Renewable is fuelled by the level of resources at its disposal.  It has 10% of Europe’s wave resources and 25 % of tidal resources.  It also is home to the windiest place in Europe (in Aberdeenshire).  It is therefore no surprise that the highest capacity factors on earth have been recorded  in Scotland (58% in Shetland). Although the annual solar resource is lesser compared to many other countries but it is still good enough to yield an 8% return on investment for PV systems. Students coming to Scotland will never find renewable resources in short supply for research purposes and will experience the forces in action first hand.

3. Resurgent Infrastructure

Scotland is making giant strides towards an infrastructure that  would accommodate the booming renewable industry. Smart meters are soon to be introduced  and work is underway on power-lines,  such as the Beauly to Denny HVDC line that would act as a highway to link the energy rich north with the energy hungry central belt.

Up north in the Orkney, European marine energy commission (EMEC) does prototype testing for  wave and tidal devices. While in the central region “Hydrogen Office” in Fife showcases the ability of  hydrogen to store energy that can mitigate the effects of intermittency of wind energy. Not very far from the Hydrogen office is the site for one of the worlds largest wind turbine (7MW), installed by Samsung.

4. Established Industry

The renewable energy industry has grown year on year. Although it is approaching saturation in the on-shore wind sector, but the approved offshore installations have the potential to double the number of people employed today by the industry. It should also be noted that the proportion of jobs  per megawatt of energy in the renewable industry is higher compared to conventional technologies. Power from the white waters in highland make Scotland’s proportion of hydro-energy one of the highest in the UK (1.3 GW). In addition, there are also several commercial units that produce bio-diesel on a small and large scale. Among them is Argent Energy that produces 45000 tonnes of the fuel every year.

5. Sublime Landscape


Lochgoin Reservoir and Whitelee Windfarm. Image courtesy BJ Mullan

Scotland is blessed with beautiful landscape and idyllic countryside.  A visit to any renewables facility is not just a treat for the inquisitive mind but a soulful experience. Whitelee windfarm for instance has a visitors centre that is popular among local students as well as the tourists. The largest on-share windfarm in UK caters for both, people looking for outdoor activities (walking/cycling) or just sifting information.  Live feed of data on  windfarm production, windspeed and direction can be noted while one sips away a hot drink behind a glass facade overlooking the lush green moors. Similarly also within reach from every major city is Pitlochery hydropower, just beside an idyllic Scottish town that is a renowned tourist destination. For the more daring Cruahchan Powerstation, lying deep within Ben Cruachan is one of the country’s most amazing engineering achievements and provides guided tours to visitors. Those in search of an exotic experience do not have to look any further than the hebridian  Island  of Eigg. This island is powered purely by renewable energy and is green in every sense of the word. A ferry from the mainland to remote Island of  Eigg guarantees  tranquillity and unparalleled experienced for the soul.

With respect to the diversity of technologies within Renewables, Scotland has all the feathers its cap from Bio-mass to Solar thermal.

The highlighted facts make a compelling case that Scotland is the best place to study Renewable energy technology and provides a rich experience to students who aim to make a career in this field.

Further reading: Renewable Energy Education in the UK

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