Going beyond wind turbines and solar panels

Going beyond wind turbines and solar panels

Niall Stuart, chief executive at trade body Renewables Scotland, explains why it isn’t enough just to think about how we generate the electricity coming out of our plugs, but why we need to consider how we heat our homes and power our cars too.

Scotland’s 100% renewable electricity target has provided a hugely powerful focus for government and industry and helped create the green energy industry we have today. It’s not, however, a target we’re going to be able to meet. Though the reasons for that may be up for debate, the benefits of this unequivocal focus – 21,000 jobs, to name but one – have been hugely valuable for Scotland. But with less than two months to go until May’s Scottish Parliament Election, and four years until the end of the decade, now is the time to set ourselves new challenges.

Ahead of that election, Scottish Renewables has set out the case for extending our own horizons beyond existing targets for 2020, and for the setting of a new vision for renewable energy in Scotland out to 2030. At its heart, that vision is designed to continue the development of our established renewable technologies while supporting the growth of new parts of the industry. But it must also reflect the need for a more strategic approach to how we grow renewables’ share of our energy needs, and the changes we need to make in the way we distribute, store and use energy as we move away from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives.

We believe that, by 2030, half of all the energy consumed in Scotland – in the form of electricity and heat, and by our transport sector – should come from renewable sources. Meeting this new goal would require a tripling of green energy from 2014 – achievable given that latest figures show we will be more than halfway there by 2020.

This new objective would be a “natural next step” from the country’s existing 2020 renewables targets, and would be the most effective way to both tackle carbon emissions and maintain secure energy supplies. It would mean the continued adoption and expansion of many already-familiar technologies, like wind, hydro, and biomass, but also a renewed focus on reducing overall energy use and on cleaning up the transport and heat sectors, which together account for 75% of our energy use.

It would also mean growth in emerging technologies like electric and hydrogen vehicles, but also some that are less familiar today, but have the potential to make a major contribution tomorrow.

Two perfect examples: East Lothian-based business Sunamp, which uses cutting-edge ‘phase-change materials’ to store excess electricity as heat and deliver it later as hot water; and Edinburgh-based start-up Celtic Renewables, which last year became the first company in the world to produce a biofuel capable of powering cars from residues of the whisky industry. Both these businesses are at the very forefront of renewable energy research, and both are proudly Scottish.

Foreign and UK investors, too, are coming to Scotland to develop their projects, spurred on by the country’s welcoming reputation. Norwegian business Statoil is developing its Hywind floating offshore wind pilot off Aberdeenshire, and in doing so is placing Scotland at the centre of research into this hugely-promising area. Meanwhile Isle of Wight-based Sustainable Marine Energy is bringing its innovative, cost-cutting Plat-o platform to Orkney to take advantage of the superlative supply chain and facilities that have been developed there by the European Marine Energy Centre.

Our manifesto for May’s Scottish Parliamentary election sets out our ideas on how Scotland can best achieve our aspirations by focusing on the need for ambition, leadership, increased competitiveness, and innovation.

Not only will these measures support growth in the next chapter of our industry, they will ensure that renewables can play a key role in meeting Scotland’s climate change targets and maximising the jobs and investment that our sector can bring to Scotland.

Growth to date is exemplified by businesses like ScottishPower and SSE, which together have taken the lead in developing a domestic onshore wind industry that employs 5,400 people, and smaller players like consultancies Locogen, SgurrEnergy and Natural Power and hydro developer Green Highland Renewables, all of which provide vital services to the industry.

There is a global market for companies like these, with worldwide demand for clean energy and new products like storage set to accelerate over the next decade. We believe that continued growth of renewable energy can, will, and should be one of the defining features of our economy over coming years, and that our industry can be at the very centre of efforts to build the progressive, inclusive and successful Scotland we all want to see. But that will only happen if we get the right framework in place to continue the transition in our energy system and to build on the significant progress made to date.

We look forward to the debate ahead and to working with the next Scottish Government on the hugely important task of defining the future of renewable energy in Scotland.

Niall Stuart is chief executive of trade body Scottish Renewables