Leading the clean energy revolution

Scotland is leading the charge when it comes to renewable energy, writes Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Scotland’s Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy

This November the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow as the city plays host to the 2020 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, known as ‘COP26’, with world leaders joined by more than 30,000 delegates to discuss how to tackle the climate emergency on a global level. The footage of bush fires in Australia and floods in Indonesia show just how serious the impacts of future, increased climate chaos could be.  

From strength to strength

Scotland was chosen as host nation thanks to our leadership on climate action: we were one of the first countries in the world to acknowledge the global climate emergency, with the Scottish Government introducing the most ambitious emissions reductions targets in the UK, and the world, to ensure our aspiration and action reflect the scale of the task the global community requires of us.

Our high level of ambition and commitment to action now underpins everything we do – including our approach to energy. We know that our energy system will require major changes to the way we do things currently, but Scotland is second to none for supporting innovation, and our natural assets leave us well placed to seize the opportunities that the energy transition presents – creating jobs and attracting investment in the process.  

Turning the tide

Marine energy, for example, has an important role to play in the energy transition and we are doing everything we can to support it. In February 2019, we launched a £10m Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to bolster commercial deployment of tidal energy generation and help overcome the UK Government’s failure to provide a route to market for the technology. In the first award, we provided £3.4m to help Orbital Marine construct the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, capable of powering more than 1,700 homes per year, and that funding is supporting a high level of Scottish supply chain content. We also provided £10m to the Wave Energy Scotland programme, taking our total funding support for the wave energy sector to nearly £40m since 2014.   Green gas In March 2019, we published our plan for Scotland’s gas and electricity networks up to 2030. The ‘Networks Vision Statement’ explores further opportunities for the generation of low-carbon hydrogen, and the use of gas networks for its distribution and storage – allowing government to determine whether low-carbon gases like hydrogen via our gas networks, for example, could be a deliverable option for some of our heat and transport fuel needs. Our Hydrogen Assessment Project will examine the potential for hydrogen in our economy and energy system and will report by this summer.  

Getting net-zero done

The generation of electricity from renewable sources is very important for Scotland’s future. Statistics from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show that in 2018 a record 76.2% of Scotland’s electricity demand was supplied from renewable sources, and the installed renewable electricity generation capacity grew by 8.5% in the year to September 2019 to reach a new record of 11.7GW in total. That is something that we are very proud of, but we need to push on, because electricity demand will continue to grow as we decarbonise Scotland’s heating and transport systems, too.

We are leading by example by accelerating efforts to use 100% renewable electricity on the Scottish public estate. Our next Energy Statement will set out the extent to which renewable and low-carbon energy generation will need to combine in order to meet net-zero targets.

Over the past five years we have funded the development of one of the most comprehensive electric charge point networks in Europe, and we formed a strategic partnership with electricity network companies to improve the delivery and integration of that infrastructure in Scotland.

Last year we also awarded £13.4m to low-carbon projects as part of a larger £60m Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme, set up to support low-carbon heating solutions, integrated energy systems and ultra-low emission vehicle infrastructure schemes.

Oil and gas decommissioning is an integral part of our just transition plans, and the Scottish Government recognises that there are significant economic opportunities that the process can provide for the industry’s supply chain. That is why, in July 2019, we awarded £4m to help maximise those opportunities, on top of £10m of investment previously committed.

Looking ahead, I am optimistic that carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) could provide a key diversification opportunity for the oil and gas supply chain, and CCUS is the only option for deep emissions reductions for many energy-intensive and process industries. When used with sustainable biomass, it can provide ‘negative emissions’ and has a role in producing ‘clean hydrogen’, alongside ‘green hydrogen’ – the latter derived from electrolysis of water using renewable energy.  

Policies for growth

Research shows that emissions from buildings account for around 20% of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, so that is an area that we are tackling head-on. We recently announced £30m to support projects to create low-carbon heating solutions, and this spring we are introducing a Heat Networks Bill that we are confident will help to attract investment in heat networks, tackle fuel poverty and ultimately lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The publication of the Scottish Government’s new draft Sectoral Marine Plan will inform the Crown Estate Scotland’s forthcoming ScotWind leasing round for offshore wind sites, alongside our own draft Offshore Wind Policy Statement. Together, these outline our high ambition for offshore wind, both fixed foundation and floating, and the steps we plan to take to secure maximum development and economic benefit from that sector.

The Scottish Government recently signed a charter with North East Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage, an alliance of industry, academia and government that is committed to the deployment of carbon capture in Scotland and delivering the Acorn CCUS project located at St Fergus Gas Terminal, near Peterhead.

All of this forms part of a wider review of targets and policies across each of the key sectors of the economy to inform our updated Climate Change Plan, to be published by the end of April. By 2021 we will have updated our Energy Strategy to reflect the greater scale of ambition set out in the Plan, outlining how, by evolving how we generate and use energy, we can boost Scotland’s economy and create a range of new models for developing local and community energy, while also tackling fuel poverty.  

Towards a clean energy future

We all face a climate emergency. It is here already, unfolding before our eyes, and we must work together to end Scotland’s contribution to emissions while encouraging all nations to do likewise. On an individual level, that means changes to the way all of us live, work and travel – the earlier we start, the easier our transition will be.

As Scotland’s government, it is up to us to try to build or enable the necessary infrastructure to do that, while supporting industry, creating a fertile environment for innovation, and by creating and exploiting the many opportunities that this transition presents.    

By Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Scottish Government

Image credit | Alamy