Scotland, a land renowned for whiskey, haggis, annoying the Roman empire to the point that Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep them out and two millennia later providing Mel Gibson with a film that won five Oscars, is now emerging as a world champion in yet another area – renewable energy.
Scotland’s renewable energy sources are now producing 40% of the country’s electrical demand.
This is not insignificant, as Scotland’s latitude places northern parts of the country closer to the Arctic Circle than to London.
In response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Eilidh Whiteford MP, Banff and Buchan, British Energy Minister Michael Fallon replied, “Renewables now generate the equivalent of 40 percent of the demand for power from every home and business in the country, support thousands of jobs across Scotland and are making a massive dent in carbon emissions. The sector is delivering exactly what government wants – jobs, investment and lower carbon emissions from our economy.”
To provide context, last year Scotland’s renewable electricity industry generated 14,825 gigawatt hours, displacing 10.3 million tons of CO2, a 24 percent increase on the 8.3 Mt of CO2 displaced in Scotland in 2011. Scottish Renewables CEO Niall Stuart observed, “Ten million tons is the equivalent of removing 99.1 percent of carbon emissions generated from every car, bus, lorry and train journey in Scotland.”
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Stuart further noted, “You could argue that the SNP government’s ambitions for renewables – supported by every other party in the Scottish Parliament other than the Conservatives – are as much about economic development as energy. If the UK requires 30 per cent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2020, then let’s have as much economic benefit and as many jobs as possible from that development here in Scotland… Perhaps the biggest and most exciting challenges and opportunities for Scotland are yet to come. Work is under way to build on our 40 years of offshore oil and gas production with the development of a number of major wind farms around our coastline. We are also the undisputed champion of wave and tidal energy development, with more wave and tidal stream devices installed in Orkney and the Pentland Firth than anywhere else in the world. Development of these technologies cannot be taken for granted, but they have the potential to take our industry, its economic impact and carbon savings to a whole new scale. Scottish businesses are already working across the world, sharing and developing lessons learned here, just as our oil and gas sector has done so successfully, with more opportunities in Europe, North America and Asia as governments there ramp up their plans for offshore renewables.”
And this doesn’t mean just wind and solar. Scotland is a world leader in developing the potential of tidal power, which unlike wind and solar, is a 24/7 process.
And Scotland has some of the best sites in the world for testing and developing this new technology. Scottish Renewables Senior Policy Manager Lindsay Leask commented on recent Oxford University research, “This latest report confirms what the industry has known for some time; the Pentland Firth is one of the best sites in the world for tidal energy. This has led to the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters area being earmarked as a key destination for wave and tidal technology and becoming home to Scotland’s first ever Marine Energy Park. There is no doubt Scotland is leading the way and with 1gigawatt of tidal projects already leased in this area alone, we’re off to a great start… The confidence in Scotland's tidal resource led to the industry securing unprecedented levels of investment last year from global companies including ABB, Siemens and Alstom.”
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Scotland’s commitment to renewable energy is both firm and growing. On 28 March Scotland’s Energy minister Fergus Ewing said the country was “firmly on course” to meet its renewable energy agenda, 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.”
The one wild card in this otherwise roseate picture is Scotland’s upcoming referendum on independence, scheduled for 18 September, 2014. A private dossier written for Scottish National Party ministers has sparked warnings that independence could trigger higher taxes or deeper spending cuts, noting that Scotland ran a deficit for 20 of the last 21 years. Should the referendum pass, then the least that can be predicted is that Scotland would enter a period of political and economic uncertainty, hardly the most encouraging climate for renewable energy.
In less than a year, the Scots people will have their answer – sort of.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com