Throughout more than two millennia, Scotland has befuddled those attempting to assimilate it into greater political schemes.
In 122 A.D., following a visit by Roman emperor Hadrian to “Britannia”, construction began on the “Vallum Aelium,” now more familiarly known as “Hadrian’s Wall,” a 73 mile fortification across the entire isthmus of Britain, which took six years to complete, to exclude the Scottish tribes from ravaging the more salubrious realms where Rome held sway.
Much later, the 1707 Acts of Union sealed the deal between England and Scotland, chasing the latter into the United Kingdom.
Fast forward three centuries, and restive Scottish nationalism is again rearing its head, with a referendum on possible Scottish independence from the United Kingdom scheduled for 2014.
The author personally first encountered this nationalism while touring Edinburgh Castle in 1970, when an elderly guard in the castle’s regalia room opined, “It’s our oil,” referring to the UK’s North Sea largesse.
Seeking further independence and regarding North Sea oil as an exportable commodity, Scotland’s government on 28 March declared that it intended to meet the equivalent of 100 percent of gross annual electricity demand from renewables by 2020.
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A tall order, as almost 39 percent of Scotland's total electricity needs came from renewables in 2012.
Can they pull it off?
According to UK government figures, renewables are an increasingly important part of British power production. According to government statistics, renewable energy generation in 2012 increased by 20 percent over 2011, providing 11.3 percent of the country’s electricity supply in 2011. The total UK renewable energy power capacity now stands at 15.5 gigawatts.
Scotland’s government determined to improve that percentage to 50 percent by 2015 and 100 percent by 2020, according to a government press release.
The data also determined that electricity generated via wind power in 2012 across the UK was at a record high level of 8,296 gigawatt hours, up 19 percent from 2011. The level is more than four times the level of UK wind generation in 2006, while Scottish renewable generation made up approximately 35 percent of total UK renewable generation in 2012. At the end of last year, there was 5,883 megawatt capacity of installed renewable electricity in Scotland, an increase of 22 percent from the end of 2011, according to statistics from the British government.
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So, where to go from here?
Scottish nationalist elements have a clearly differing view from their political masters in Whitehall, and the issue remains between London and Edinburgh about not only the eventual disposition of North Sea hydrocarbon revenues, but the future energy profile of the land.
Not a topic that is going to go away. On 28 March Scotland’s Energy minister Fergus Ewing said the country was “firmly on course” to meet its renewable energy target, telling journalists, “2012 was another record year for renewables in Scotland. Scotland also contributed more than a third of the entire UK’s renewables output, demonstrating just how important a role our renewable resource is playing in terms of helping the UK meet its binding EU renewable energy targets. We remain firmly on course to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewables by 2020, with renewables generating more than enough electricity to supply every Scottish home.”
After the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, these issues will no doubt be clarified. In the interim, expect a political campaign harboring two centuries of appeals and threats, with energy issues taking a back seat.
For a world in transition, the issue of tradition versus progressive energy policies will have more than marginal interest.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com