Current Renewable Energy Issues in Scotland

David Torrance

Scotland is well on its way towards becoming a world leader in renewable energy. Rich in natural resources, Scotland enjoys a plethora of potential sources of renewable energy, from wave and tidal to wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biofuels. Not only do we possess the largest offshore renewable energy resources in the EU, with a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind potential, we are also at the forefront of developing breakthrough innovations in renewable energy technology. In this article I focus on marine (wave and tidal) power, which I view as one of the most promising sources of renewable energy in Scotland. Whilst we remain at an early stage in terms of technological development, there is vast potential for Scotland to harness its marine power further. This will require targeted investment in innovation, research and development, in addition to more practical aspects such as improvements to grid access; however, the benefits that Scotland can gain in relation to jobs, the economy, meeting our climate change targets and achieving energy security constitute major incentives for doing so.

The development of marine power technology in Scotland has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. The Saltire Prize initiative recognises technological advances in this sector. Launched in 2008 by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, the Saltire Prize currently has five competitors vying for the £10 million reward, the largest of its kind in the world. One of the participants, Aquamarine Power Limited, developed the revolutionary Oyster technology that converts energy from nearshore waves into clean sustainable electricity via an onshore hydroelectric turbine. It brings me great pride to know that Aquamarine Power’s Oyster 800 wave energy device was manufactured within my constituency at Fife Energy Park in Methil by local contractor Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab). Another competitor for the Saltire Prize, Pelamis Wave Power, has a facility just across the Firth of Forth in Leith, Edinburgh, where assembly of its Pelamis structures takes place. Both are examples of cutting-edge renewable energy technology being developed on Scottish shores.

Based on the popularity of the Saltire Prize, the Junior Saltire Prize was launched in 2011, sponsored by Skills Development Scotland and backed by the Scottish Government. Open to school pupils across Scotland, the Junior Saltire Prize aims to inspire a new generation of innovators in marine energy. It is a means of encouraging interest and engagement in the renewable energy industry amongst young Scots, those who will take forward the pioneering of new technology into the future. This is vitally important if renewable energy is to become a sustainable and integral part of Scotland’s economy in the years to come.

It has been estimated that capturing just a third of our offshore renewable energy potential could generate the equivalent, in terms of electricity sales, of £14 billion net by 2050.

Despite the vast potential of Scotland’s marine power and renewable energy industry more generally, there are a number of challenges to overcome before its value can be fully realised. One of the major issues is the cost of developing new technologies and encouraging the continued advancement of renewables whilst keeping down the costs of supplying energy to the consumer. The financial gain of increasing our reliance on renewable energy is significant long-term, with an estimated £30 billion of investment in the Scottish economy. However, there is no denying that investing in the industry in the early stages is expensive, and already many consumers are facing fuel poverty as a result of recent high price increases by the major energy suppliers. One way of tackling this problem was proposed by the Scottish Government in its plans for energy policy in an independent Scotland which involved transferring the cost of energy efficiency measures, such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and Warm Homes Discount, from energy companies to the central government, meeting these costs through central resources.

A further problem is the lack of grid access in many areas, particularly in terms of offshore infrastructure. The existing electricity transmission network in Scotland and across the UK is outdated and in need of major upgrading. Significant investment is therefore required to connect and deliver Scotland’s vast renewable resources to consumers. For this reason, the Scottish Government has been working with its partners in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and across the North Sea to improve offshore grid connections. The EU has recognised these connections as priority infrastructure projects, and we must continue to work with all interested parties in the EU to ensure rapid deployment over the coming years.

It is also important for Scotland to promote continued and increased innovation and research and development in the renewables sector. Whilst much has been achieved thus far, including the technological innovations recognised by the Saltire Prize, we must ensure that Scotland continues to capitalise upon its strong track record in R&D by working with industry partners and academia from our leading Scottish universities in order to direct funding towards the most appropriate research areas.

Whilst there are a number of challenges to face in expanding the renewable energy industry in Scotland, there are also some fantastic opportunities to be gained from doing so. The potential for employment is extensive, with the prospect of up to 40,000 jobs to be created in this modern and innovative sector by 2020. The contribution that Scotland’s renewable energy industry will make to our economy in financial terms is also significant. It has been estimated that capturing just a third of our offshore renewable energy potential could generate the equivalent, in terms of electricity sales, of £14 billion net by 2050.

In the long-term we can assure our energy security in Scotland by aiming to become entirely self-sufficient in our own energy supply.

Furthermore, increasing our focus on renewable energy will allow Scotland to work towards decarbonisation of its energy mix and the achievement of its ambitious climate change targets. With the world’s fast-depleting supplies of fossil fuels, it is becoming increasingly important for countries, particularly those heavily dependent on oil and gas, to turn to more sustainable sources of energy. Countries that depend less on energy importation also have a much higher level of energy security. In Scotland we have the most ambitious renewable energy target in the EU; by aiming to meet 100 percent of our electricity consumption from renewables by 2020, alongside 11 percent renewable heat and 10 percent renewable transport targets, Scotland’s overall share of renewable energy is expected to be 30 percent by 2020. Not only does this exceed the EU-wide target of 20 percent, it eclipses the UK’s target of 15 percent. In the long-term we can assure our energy security in Scotland by aiming to become entirely self-sufficient in our own energy supply.

It is clear that Scotland has enormous potential to harness its renewable energy, particularly in terms of marine power. Although there will undoubtedly be obstacles to overcome along the way, there are innumerable benefits to be gained by our people, our economy and our environment. By encouraging continued innovation through positive initiatives like the Saltire Prize and continued investment in research and development we can go further in delivering, for ourselves and the wider world, modern and sustainable sources of energy to take us into an increasingly decarbonised future. I am extremely proud of what Scotland has achieved in this sector thus far and I look with anticipation towards what is certain to be a bright and enterprising future for renewable energy in Scotland.

David Torrance is Scottish National Party member of the Scottish Parliament for the Kirkcaldy constituency

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