An increasing thirst for power – How the food and drinks sector impacts electricity demand in the north of Scotland

When our transmission energy scenarios planning team told me they were researching the economics of brewing and distilling my interest was piqued. The team was looking for a reason why business’ use of electricity was rising in the north of Scotland while it was decreasing elsewhere. Their research showed industrial and commercial electricity consumption increased by over 13% in the last decade, in contrast to a 7% decline seen across GB as a whole. Part of the working hypothesis was a booming food and beverage sector including craft beer, gin distilleries and, of course, whisky.

As the electricity transmission network owner in the north of Scotland, one of our main focusses over the past couple of decades has been the connection of new forms of renewable electricity generation. Since 2005, the scale of generation connected in our area has more than doubled with onshore wind adding 2,406MW of capacity, with our network now supporting over 5GW of clean renewable electricity. But we haven’t forgotten about household and business energy customers – all that renewable energy is worthless if it can’t be safely transported to provide a reliable supply of power to the end customer.

In the north of Scotland the amount of energy used by households and businesses, and the time when energy is used, is different than the rest of the UK. This can be explained by geography (it can be cold and dark), by economics (different industries) and by social factors (such as rural communities without mains gas resulting in a high penetration of electric heating).

To ensure we continue to meet customers’ needs in a timely manner, we must analyse the uncertainty in areas such as the electrification of heat and transport, and which generation technologies are likely to be developed in our area. This will enable us to determine the scale and type of investments required over the next decade to maintain a safe and secure supply of electricity for the communities which rely on our network to meet their everyday energy needs. Our North of Scotland Energy Trends working paper published today questions whether there is a growing divergence with the rest of the UK and is the first stage in the analysis of future energy scenarios for the north of Scotland that we are undertaking as part of our planning for the next price control (RIIO-T2) which begins in 2021.

This paper represents the first stage in developing a view of the changes that have occurred in our network area and identifying points of difference that will need to be included in our localised scenario assumptions.

Over the next six months we are updating our energy scenarios for 2020 to 2030. As we do this work, we will publish regular working papers on our analysis and emerging thoughts. If you would like to talk to us about our planning or have ideas and insights about future energy needs in the north of Scotland then please get in touch.

The full paper can be downloaded here.

About the author

Aileen McLeod Head of Networks Development

Aileen is SSE's Head of Networks Development and is responsible for medium and long term business planning and identifying strategic drivers that will impact upon customers’ needs from the high voltage electricity network.

Read more articles by Aileen McLeod