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The promise of Scotland’s renewable energy future?


Although you could be excused for missing it in today’s whirlwind news cycle, but last month the Scottish Government published a plan that could transform Scotland in just fifteen short years –  the country’s first ever energy strategy.  This draft strategy outlines a vision for our energy future that sets out the changes needed on how we power our society, heat our buildings and travel to work and school in the future

It’s possible to see the draft strategy as a bold commitment to change, to the use of regulation to catalyse investment, the accelerated growth of renewable energy across our economy,  the transformation of our homes,  local energy planning and to an active role for Government as an energy supplier. However, it can also be seen as holding onto old certainties and a reluctance to redirect the inertia in the patterns of today’s energy use.  Its continued commitment to maximising recovery of oil and gas from the North Sea, the unnecessary pursuit of replacement thermal base-load generation and the primacy of the private (albeit electric) car are all features of yesterday’s energy world.

Man laying loft insulation ©iStockMan laying loft insulation ©iStock

The draft strategy attempts to offer something for everyone yet the global energy transition will inevitably have winners and losers. That means the final strategy must move away from a cautious green and black energy vision and fully commit to the low carbon transition if it is to effectively maximise the benefits.  As the expert energy task force convened by us recently concluded, the energy transition requires the Government to assert leadership and overall control: change will not happen without a concerted and integrated long-term plan.

The headline proposal in the draft strategy is to set a new all energy target to deliver the equivalent of 50% of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030.  This very welcome goal has strong industry support and will be invaluable in providing clarity of direction, attracting investment and reducing costs. Independent research carried out for us shows it’s credible and achievable largely with existing technologies.  If it’s to be a truly meaningful policy instrument, and deliver the same benefits as the 2020 electricity target has done, it needs to be complemented by two things.  Firstly, it must be promoted and championed from the very top of the Scottish Government and secondly it requires concrete new policy commitments.

Wind turbine at sunset near Camelford, Cornwall, UKWind turbine at sunset. © Global Warming Images/ WWF

Although the Energy Strategy stops short of saying what the level of renewable energy use will be in heating our buildings or driving our cars its sister document; the Climate Change Plan, does paint a picture of the future.  For instance, in the immediate future the deployment of low carbon heat into Scotland’s homes is expected to double, yet there is no new policy to drive this acceleration.  As a minimum all suitable new houses should be connected to a low carbon heat supply, if not we’re simply storing up challenges and costs for the future.

In the transport sector sales of electric vehicles are expected to increase by over 100% in one year and yet there’s no new policy initiative to drive this acceleration.  Stronger commitments to work place parking charging and low emissions zones could both help power this change and deliver much needed public health benefits.

Similarly, the strategy describes the significant improvement of the energy efficiency of all our buildings, but neither it nor the Climate Plan offer much confidence that this will be realised.  Indeed the planned pace at which our houses will be improved is roughly half what independent climate advisors think is necessary.  We urgently need to see a strong commitment to regulate the minimum level of efficiency for all homes at the point of sale and rental if we‘re to attract private finance and ensuring our housing stock is fit for the 21st Century.

The challenge of tackling climate change has always been about the urgency of now, the draft Energy Strategy brings that into sharp focus by setting out the scale of change we need to see in just fifteen years.  If we’re to be successful we must see the challenges it presents as the breath-taking opportunities they really are and fully commit to securing them.

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