Comment: Fast satellite connectivity is fuelling Scotland’s energy revolution 

07/07/2023
Derek Phillips (Clarus Networks Group)

by  Derek Phillips, Group Managing Director of The Clarus Networks Group

RENEWABLES by far dominate electricity generation in Scotland, with our output quadrupling since 2007, and renewables now representing 27,000 jobs. However, there is still work to be done, and the sector needs support to complete the transition in all areas, including renewable heat sources and transport. The rise of electric vehicles will increase electricity demand, exerting pressure on our renewable capacity.

Communications technology will play a vital role in Scotland’s energy transition, addressing challenges faced by renewable sources, like remote locations and limited connectivity. Previously, offshore wind sites would be connected with subsea fibre cables, or via geostationary satellites, both of which come with disadvantages. Subsea cables are costly to lay and maintain, and any damage can cause complete loss of connectivity, as happened to Shetland last year, causing fundamental vulnerability to the island’s infrastructure. Geostationary satellites, 36,000 km above us in space, also experience higher latency (the time taken for data to transfer from one part of the network to another). 

Fortunately, newer technology such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation has revolutionised the field. These low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, situated only 550 km to 1,200 km away from Earth, offer significantly lower latency and are a ‘plug and play’ solution. This low latency allows for more seamless workling, with real-time collaboration, monitoring and remote control, plus supporting high definition video calls. With a network of low-cost satellites orbiting the globe, even the most remote wind farms can access seamless connectivity, without the high costs and long waits associated with deploying subsea cabling.

Last month, I spoke at the UK’s All Energy Conference, outlining how Clarus Networks Group was set up over 10 years ago to support connectivity at remote construction sites, but now serves diverse sectors, including energy, maritime, and healthcare. We are a proud Scottish telecoms company, and one of just a handful of distributors across the world to offer both Starlink and OneWeb LEO satellite broadband, coupled with other solutions like 5G networks. Our expertise lies in delivering critical communications to challenging locations, including recently partnering with the UK Government to bring high-speed satellite internet to Papa Stour, in Shetland, home to only seven residents. 

We have already witnessed the positive impact of high-speed LEO and 5G connectivity, unlocking efficiency, sustainability, and safety benefits for clients including EDF, Valaris, Hughes Subsea, Hitachi Energy, Orstead and Balfour Beatty. Many of these organisations initially contacted us because they understand the welfare benefits of providing offshore crews with a seamless connection to their loved ones back onshore. With reliable internet supporting high definition video calls, crew members can stay connected and prioritise their well-being.

What many didn’t appreciate was the hugely positive impact this would have on operations and business critical performance. High-speed connections enable real-time remote monitoring, data collection and control capabilities, empowering engineers to troubleshoot issues, update software, and conduct preventive maintenance remotely. This approach minimises downtime, improves operational efficiency, and maximises renewable energy generation, while reducing the need for costly on-site visits. 

The integration of Starlink with private and secure 5G networks also opens up possibilities for advanced energy management systems, with smart grids to intelligently manage renewable energy generation, storage, and consumption. Suppliers can optimise power distribution, balance supply and demand, and seamlessly integrate renewable energy sources with existing power grids. In turn, this enhances grid reliability, stability, and resilience, paving the way for a more efficient and sustainable energy ecosystem.

Scotland’s energy transition needs robust support, and communications technology plays a vital role, with much faster connections and easier set-up. To support renewable technologies, we must bridge the connectivity gap, enabling smart grids, remote maintenance, and fostering research and collaboration. LEO satellite connectivity is revolutionising how businesses operate, and I’m excited to see more energy companies embracing the technology to support the renewable energy revolution. 

Derek Phillips is Group Managing Director of The Clarus Networks Group, a Scottish Starlink provider and connectivity specialist.  

https://www.clarus-networks.com/

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