FORTUNE, as the old saying goes, favours the brave. When ScottishPower moved into renewables generation more than a quarter of a century ago, the technology was very much in its infancy and its economic future uncertain. We are now in an entirely different energy universe. Renewables are literally powering our future, opening the way to decarbonisation and net zero emissions. They are here not just to stay, but also to help secure the future of the planet.

In every way, ScottishPower Renewables has been a pioneer in all this. It was the first large energy company to go 100 per cent green, with more than 40 wind farms now producing a total of two gigawatts of clean energy – enough to power nearly two million UK homes. The company’s commitment to the green revolution is mirrored by its parent, Iberdrola Group, which is one of the world’s largest integrated utility companies and a global leader in wind energy.

Lindsay McQuade, ScottishPower Renewables’ Chief Executive, is an evangelist for the opportunities green energy offers. “We were a very early mover into the sector, recognising that it was going to be part of our strategic future”, she recalls.

“At the time, the turbines were much smaller and less efficient than they are now. The sector has been on a real journey of innovation since then. One of the most exciting things that has happened is that electricity generated by wind has now been incorporated into the grid at ever increasing rates, making us think more about the benefits of new technologies.”

The company’s commitment to renewables has been complete - arguably dramatically so, as it chose to cut the umbilical cord to fossil fuels, closing its coal plants at Longannet and Cockenzie and leaving gas generation entirely. Ms McQuade points out that advances in renewable technology have taken place alongside a reduction in industry costs.

“These things will help us in our journey to net zero by helping us decarbonise not just the electricity sector, but all economic sectors. They cement our important role as an enabler not just in our own industry but also transport and heat.” Being a first mover in the sector means that ScottishPower Renewables has been able to develop its intellectual capital, she adds.

“We now really understand how wind works in the market and how it can support a stable and resilient grid. “At the start, it was risky – I make no bones about that. The technology was unproven. But we are through that stage now and are a proven part of the UK’s energy mix. We are now fully exposed to competition and other market forces and models, such as large corporate customers seeking to procure clean directly.”

ScottishPower Renewables now has wind farms literally stretching from Caithness to Cornwall – all of them managed from Glasgow – with its flagship site at Whitelee on the outskirts of the city. This generation behemoth is the largest onshore wind facility in the UK. It also continues to be at the leading edge of technology. Whitelee currently has a giant super battery half the size of a football pitch under construction. When complete, this will be able to store 50 megawatts of electricity for use by the grid when needed.

“It’s going to be key for us to be able to store energy at times when the wind is blowing really well - which, even though we live in Scotland, isn’t always the case”, Ms McQuade adds “We also have plans for solar energy at Whitelee and at wind farms in other parts of the country. This can now be generated in Scotland because once again technology has improved rapidly. Our proposal is currently at the planning stage and we hope to receive consent later in the year.”

ScottishPower Renewables is also preparing to embrace green hydrogen technology. This is a clean fuel created from water that is set to be used to power larger forms of transport in the future. Most private cars are set to become electric and these will have the facility to themselves act as battery storage units, feeding energy back into the grid as required. However, this technology is unlikely to be suitable for use in heavy haulage vehicles such as trains, lorries or ferries as the batteries needed would be too big and heavy. In these cases, hydrogen will be a more realistic option.

“We are looking at how we can help our industrial customers decarbonise their processes”, Lindsay McQuade says. “At the moment they are using quite intensive forms of energy to support their operations. Green hydrogen could be a solution to this.”

ScottishPower Renewables is now at the stage where it is beginning the work of repowering its wind farms – that is, retiring older technologies and bringing in more efficient state-of-the-art infrastructure.

“We have already done this at two sites in the last decade, but we will now start to see the retirement of more of our older turbines. “These will be replaced with more efficient and modern ones that have taller tip heights and more effective generation capacity. That allows us to make an even greater contribution to net zero from our existing assets.”

The company’s contribution to society and the economy goes beyond its core business of green energy generation. It employs thousands of people, supports an extensive supply chain and delivers for local people, particularly those away from major centres of population. So far, it has contributed more than £38 million in support for communities in areas where it operates.

“It’s one way of us sharing the benefits of renewable generation”, Ms McQuade says. “We own our wind farms for their working lives and so we are committed to being to a good neighbour.

“That means we want to help those communities by meeting their needs and supporting their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. A recent example saw £15,000 provided by our Harestanes Windfarm community benefit fund enable the resident-led Nith Valley Leaf Trust (NVLT) to secure further funding to develop and construct three affordable, family-sized, energy efficient Passivhaus certified rental properties in the community of Closeburn. The future of ScottishPower Renewables, she says, will be “clean, green and more green”, adding: “We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of investment planned – between now and 2025 we are putting £3.7 billion into our renewables business alone. I want to keep our position at the centre of the industry. We’ve invested heavily in it and I want to sustain it and ensure we carry on as a leader in the sector.

“We’ve seen enormous change. People understand much more about the climate emergency and the fragility of our ecosystems, I have a daughter and I’ve described to her how electricity used to be made, describing how they used to dig up stuff from the ground and then grind it and burn it. She looked at me as if I was insane."

This article was brought to you in association with ScottishPower