public affairs analysis Scottish Government energy strategy

Powering Scotland into the future

50% of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity energy needs will be met by renewables by 2030 under plans published by the Scottish Government, writes Matthew Revett from Grayling Scotland Public Affairs.

A new energy strategy was published this week hot on the tails of the Scottish Government’s climate change plan. Both documents taken together outline how Scotland will continue its journey towards a low carbon economy and meet its climate change emission targets.

The Climate Change Act 2009 set ambitious, world-leading targets. It was the centre-piece policy from the SNP’s first term in office, projecting a nationalist government onto the international scene. This new plan echoes the ambition from Paris COP21 in contrast to the UK Government’s approach to meeting its targets at lowest cost to the energy consumer.

Scotland is on track to reach interim milestones from the 2009 Act. As Paul Wheelhouse’s statement to Parliament this week outlined, Scotland’s electricity generation is more or less decarbonised. The switching off of heavy bits of polluting kit like the coal station at Longannet last year has given the government the confidence to increase Scotland’s GHG 2032 reduction target to 62% of 1990 levels.

However, the SNP want to go further. The Energy Strategy, penned by Chris Stark, the SG’s Director of Climate Change and Energy, is a detailed and comprehensive picture outlining how Scotland is powered and what it needs to do improve its energy efficiency and develop new technologies to make Scotland a centre for renewables excellence.

A new 2030 ‘all-energy’ target for the equivalent of 50% of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied from renewable sources, captures the ambition in this system-wide approach. The difficult task here will obviously be the heat/transport element, given Scotland’s modest powers in these areas.

Now, picking winners on the technology side is never a good idea. However, the new Energy Strategy doesn’t do that per se; there are ambitious elements, such as hydrogen for space heating and CCS to ensure any new fossil thermal generation has its carbon emissions ‘removed’ where solutions will need to be developed and harnessed (both of these are still a long-way off) requiring serious investment.

While the Energy Strategy will continue to guide Scotland towards a low carbon future, it does so in a UK context. This isn’t an Energy Strategy for a future independent country. More difficult policy decisions would need to be taken if Scotland chooses that path (remember this a strategy to take us well into the middle of this century) such as new nuclear to ensure we have a reliable base load of electricity or CCS for any future gas plants. Scotland’s energy strategy can afford to be flexible and rely on base power being imported from the UK’s single energy market and doesn’t need to contend with all the complications associated with grid investment, decentralised generation and intermittency – for now.

There are big controversial issues that will require political leadership; we still await the consultation on shale gas extraction and some future energy efficiency policies, such as regulating improvements in private sector houses could prove tricky for the SNP. However, it is clear that Scotland’s energy policy remains linked to its broader low carbon vision for our economic future – one that should be welcomed.

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