First, there is oil. That is yesterday’s news. Have they not heard of the fact renewables are now the story? And it just so happens Scotland has more renewable energy per head of population than any other country in Europe. It is already 97% renewable in electricity. It will become well over 100%. So, first, it will export to a desperate England, and second, it will become an absolute hub for businesses with high energy consumption who need to make that green which can only be done in a location with an excess of renewable energy.
OK, cool. So, we have a test industry available for us here, aluminium smelting. The embedded electricity inside one tonne of aluminium metal is perhaps $800 worth. The production method is – largely, and just to be simplistic about it – to run electricity through aluminium oxide until you’ve got aluminium metal.
The global aluminium industry does in fact operate according to Ritchie’s assumption. You do place the smelter right by the cheap electricity supply. You make the aluminium oxide (alumina) where you like, nowadays usually near the bauxite source. The you ship that alumina to where the electricity is nice and cheap. Quebec for example, or Iceland, or the Russians used vast plants out in bits of Siberia and so on, the Pacific Northwest for the Americans. Or, in the UK case, Scotland – although we also went a bit odd and did it a bit on Anglesey by building a nuclear plant there.
In fact, the industry generally works on the idea that you figure out where ‘leccie can be generated cheap, you build the cheap ‘leccie generator then you build the aluminium smelter. Which is why Gupta now owns one near Lochaber or somewhere.
So far the P³ posit is entirely correct. Except – and there’s always an except, isn’t there? – you do this with hydro plants. Because they’re continuous.
If you use an intermittent ‘leccie source to do this then when it mitts then you have some very expensive pots of half melted aluminium that you have to throw away. The pots themselves that is, the things you do it in, not just the oxide to metal transition that is half done.
Scotland’s vast renewables resource is wind and possibly wave and or tidal – intermittent sources. The Greens aren’t going to allow dams all over the place.
This is not absolutely true of every high ‘leccie usage process but it is more broadly true. The very fact that you want lots of it leads to requiring continuous, not intermittent, supply. Which is a bit of a bugger for those expecting high usage industry to turn up in a windy Scotland….