Powering Perth's story
John Ferguson is head of strategy at the Binn Eco Park in Glenfarg, one of Scotland's largest and most integrated waste management facilities, as well as being part of the Perth Leadership Forum.
This forum brings business leaders together to work with the council on the transition to net zero and as part of this platform, a number of working groups were set up in several areas – transport, carbon planning and reduction etc. The Private Grid Perth project aims to provide solutions to support the Perth Smart Energy City Project.
As a result of these roles, and his experience, John could see that increasing electrification to achieve Net Zero in the city would put pressure on the National Grid, This could be addressed by the creation of more private grid capacity within the renewable system to reduce this pressure and offer green options.
As Managing Director of Eco IdeaM (an environmental development facilitation and ideas company) John was already working with other commercial partners, one of whom, Green Cat Renewables built the wind farm at Binn Eco Park. The 4 x 2.35-megawatt wind turbines now form the foundation of the Private Grid Project with plans to build onto that with solar, battery, biogas and other technologies.
As John explains: “Our project will generate too much power for our own needs, so we are working on developing an export line to Perth, about 17Km away, using a 25MW cable. The cable route is currently being modelled, and work is underway to identify and map who will buy our power.”
With the Local Authority designing its approach to the ‘Perth Smart Energy City Project’ alternative green energy options for transport, heating etc are being discussed to reduce carbon emissions and provide long term sustainable solutions. This initiative is being replicated globally as cities begin to take responsibility for the energy their urban space uses and the consequences of their choices.
Private Grid Perth is a partnership between power-producing companies including the Local Authority and will help the city of Perth to decarbonise by supplying power to schools, hospitals, prison services business parks and private industry.
John sees this as the way forward: "A private grid stimulates renewable investments – if you can sell your power direct to projects or to public utilities at a slightly better price, it allows smaller, riskier, more innovative projects to be developed, and that is what we need.”
John is keen to raise awareness of the power of collaborative working across sectors to share ideas and make progress. He spoke at the Planet Mark Zero Carbon Tour event in Perth earlier this year.
Image: Unsplash stock image, Neil and Zulma Scott
Useful learnings from Powering Perth
Developing private grids is a complex process and there are many challenges to overcome.
As a strategist, I feel that overall we actually know what we have to do and much of the technology is available to enable us to achieve our goals.
However two fundamental things hamper our progress: changing the behaviours of people – for a whole range of different, complex reasons; and delivering the infrastructure. It is extremely hard to change the infrastructure of post-industrial advanced economies, particularly those with the highest emissions. Even more challenging to do this within a short timescale.
So we need to be smart about how we go about what we do.
My advice is that is important to work in collaboration with experts who have the experience and vision to see the project through. Co-creative and cooperative working across sectors is key and opens up channels of communication, networks, funding opportunities and resources that will be invaluable.
Keep to your goals and do your research. An Environmental Impact Report will provide the information you need to move in the right direction. There will inevitably be set-backs, but use these to learn and grow.
If you have power-producing systems you need power control systems and these need to be integrated with energy management systems, clear governance models, back-up supply systems etc – resulting in the project being complex to develop and maintain. This can be daunting but achievable with the right support in place. It is also vital to manage waste safely and appropriately using the most up to date technology.
Despite the challenges, Private Grids are beginning to get moving and I know that these will be increasingly important to take the strain off of the national grid.
Speaking at the Planet Mark Zero Carbon Tour in Perth earlier this year I was encouraged to hear the stories of other like-minded businesses that are working hard, overcoming obstacles, pushing boundaries to achieve their vision of a better, cleaner and more sustainable future.