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Could Scotland be 50% renewable by 2030?


Michelle Fisher

Despite grand ambitions, Scotland will not achieve 100% renewables generation by 2020, however experts believe it could still generate a healthy 50% from renewable sources by 2030. But what changes need to be implemented in order to achieve this?

In 2011 the Scottish government released its 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland, a plan of action which called for the delivery of 100% energy generation from renewables by 2020. With just four years to go, it is evident that this target will not be achieved. Instead, a goal of 50% renewable by 2030 could be an alternative target, according to a recent  report*, which  puts forward key actions for the Scottish Government. It suggests that heat and transport should be the key focus in achieving this target, along with a continued focus on wind power.

A change of targets

The new report comes as the Scottish Government seeks to develop a reformed energy strategy, and backs up pledges from several political parties which also support a 50% renewable all-energy target. The target also corresponds with that announced by industry body Scottish Renewables in its manifesto published in January of this year. 

However, in order to achieve this lesser goal, the Scottish Government must now listen to industry experts and put in place policy measures designed to speed up take-up of renewables:

 “Ministers should now make this a Scottish Government target and bring in the policies needed in its forthcoming energy strategy,” according to WWF Scotland director Lang Banks: “Scotland is already seeing the economic and social benefits of shifting our electricity system to clean, climate-friendly, renewables generation. However, with electricity accounting for just one quarter of our energy use, it’s time to begin to reap the same benefits by increasing the use of renewables in our heat and transport sectors.”

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, felt that the 2030 target was a move in the right direction: "Scotland’s ambitious climate change and 2020 renewable energy targets have signalled a clear intent for the country to lead the way in the transition to a low-carbon economy – and driven tremendous growth in renewable electricity generation. However, it’s now time to lift our horizons and set an ambitious target to drive investment in renewable heat, power and transport through the 2020s.”

How will Scotland achieve this?

So behind the rhetoric, how can the new renewable ambitions be achieved? Industry specialists believe the heat and transport sectors could be key. And these in combination with continued wind generation, a key sector in Scottish renewables output, will undoubtedly be essential to reaching the country’s future targets.

At the end of the first quarter of 2016 the leading source of installed renewable energy in Scotland was onshore wind, followed by hydro power. In fact, WWF previously announced that February saw wind turbines alone provide over forty per cent of Scotland’s total electricity needs, and WeatherEnergy reported in October of this year that wind power generation had increased by a third since September 2015. The former Department of Energy & Climate Change released findings earlier this year that revealed in 2015 Scotland had generated the equivalent of more than half its electricity needs from renewables, and these figures can be seen to demonstrate the call for 50% electricity sourced from renewables as achievable.  Wind power would undoubtedly be a key source of clean energy in reaching the 2030 scenario and there may even be a surplus of generation which could be exported elsewhere in the UK.

Another key focus for renewable generation is heat. Ricardo Energy & Environment calls for two-fifths of Scotland’s homes to be heated from renewable sources by 2030, while WWF Scotland suggests the need for a Warm Homes Act in order to ensure access to cleaner, more affordable heat across the nation. Additionally, the report indicates that a national energy efficiency programme would help reduce energy use in homes to 30% lower than that of today, enabling millions of homes across the country to be better insulated.

Currently, 4% of Scotland’s heat is sourced from renewables, and Ricardo Energy & Environment’s analysis calls for this to be increased ten-fold by 2030. The solution offered is that half of all homes would be fitted with hybrid (electric/gas) heat pumps, with 72% of commercial buildings serviced by heat pumps or biomass boilers. The analysis calls for widespread deployment of these heat pumps and implementation of them as the standard for heating technology across the country.

Implementing renewables in heat generation was also stressed by many others in the industry as a key need. Commenting on the report, Dave Pearson, Director of Star Renewables saw heat as having been a neglected area of energy policy, and called for the Scottish Government to implement stronger policies in order to prompt consumers away from fossil fuels and towards the heat pump technology readily available. However, the transition could be difficult for customers in terms of unfamiliarity, and it is necessary to therefore offer a large degree of official support alongside this type of roll-out.

Scotland has already made progress in the area of heat generation, with 5.3% being sourced from renewables in 2015, a 1.5% increase from 2014. This is largely as a result of the non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI), a scheme which offers financial incentives for businesses and organisations that generate and use renewable energy to heat their buildings. The Scottish government could continue to offer these types of incentives in order to make renewables adoption more attractive to consumers. A continuation of the RHI combined with the installation of heat pumps would be more economically attractive to businesses and consumers in the long term, and therefore there is a need for more encouragement and attention from the government in order to facilitate wider acceptance of these solutions.

The transport sector has also been noted as an area which requires more renewable energy adoption in order to reduce emissions. Ricardo Energy & Environment envisions that 50% of all buses and one in three cars on the road would be powered by renewable energy by 2030, ideally resulting in a 40% drop in petrol and diesel usage.  But Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland claims that when it comes to climate emissions, the country’s transport sector is “stuck in neutral, with emissions barely reduced on where they were in 1990”. He does state, however, that more can be done in order to shift all transport to low-carbon. One possibility might be following the lead of other European countries such as Norway and Denmark where petrol and diesel vehicles are being phased out. The government must also act on delivering a charging network, which the government has previously envisaged, and this would facilitate a greater ease in electric vehicle adoption. 

Additionally, the government could take action in making high emissions vehicles less attractive and providing perks for adopting electric or hybrid vehicles. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently released their Draft Clean Air Zone Framework which calls for the introduction of Clean Air Zones across five cities in England. The Scottish government could implement some of the recommendations offered for these zones in order to achieve their own targets. Incentives laid out in this Clean Zone framework, such as lower parking fees, access to bus lanes and priority at traffic lights, could be applied in cities around Scotland in order to encourage future purchases of low emission vehicles.

One key difficulty with adoption of hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles from a purchaser’s point of view is the higher initial cost, which has also been identified as a key issue in the adoption of renewable technology in the heat sector. However, this needs to be looked at in comparison to the much lower running costs after the initial purchase. It seems, therefore, that economic considerations must be given attention; the government could introduce more financial aid to those purchasing the hybrid vehicles at the outset, like the UK Government’s Plug-in Vehicle Grant, or perhaps introduce other types of incentives to businesses who adopt these vehicles for commercial use. The customer would then benefit from the initial purchase and also reap the rewards of usage later down the line when running costs are visibly lower.

Ultimately, the 2030 goal is attainable if the government is willing to take on board recommendations from industry specialists and implement stronger policy in support of those factors. This, coupled with more encouraging incentives, could be the way forward in making Scotland 50% renewable within the next 15 years.
 

*  The WWF collaborated with Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland on a report based on an extensive analysis by technical consultancy Ricardo Energy and Environment.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Fisher is the Content Development Manager for Renewable Energy Focus.

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