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Scotland should support off-grid renewable energy

Targets for climate change are ambitious but are achievable if the Scottish Government considers support for green heat and other non-traded energy.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the targets set out in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act can be delivered if steps are taken to significantly strengthen and to add to existing policies in key areas.

The 2020 target to reduce GHG emissions by 42% over 1990 levels is on the path to meeting the 2050 target to reduce emissions by 80%, it notes in an advice to the Scottish Government. It recommends that emissions from traded sectors (including green power from renewable energy facilities, as well as other energy-intensive industries) should be regarded as following the wider continental trajectory under the European Union’s cap and trade scheme.

Different scenarios

Under a moderately ambitious plan, Scotland could directly abate emissions by 5776 kilotonnes (kt) of CO2-equivalent in the non-traded sector, with transportation accounting for 1834 kt and new building standards for 1475 kt. Renewable heat (from solar thermal, geothermal heat pumps, biomass thermal) could contribute 1163 kt of reductions.

Efforts to decarbonise the country would have great benefits, the CCC notes. The number of people in fuel poverty would drop and new jobs would be created in the renewable energy sector.

Step change is needed

Given limited recent progress in reducing GHG emissions, a “step change in effort” will be required to unlock the potential for emissions reduction in key areas and this will require a mix of reserved and devolved policy levers.

“There are important roles for the Scottish Government in leading a national programme for energy efficiency improvement and renewable heat uptake, promoting the Smarter Choices - Smarter Places transport initiative, supporting the roll-out of electric cars through network measures and charging infrastructure provision, and developing new policies aimed at reducing emissions from agriculture and waste.”

There is also an important role for Scotland in enabling investment in renewable electricity, by providing faster approval for planning applications which support decarbonisation and to unlock employment and other economic benefits.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act was adopted last August, with targets that are more ambitious than currently-legislated UK carbon budgets. The Scottish target of 42% reduction should include a focus on the traded power sector through investment in renewable electricity generation and, in the non-traded sector, increased penetration of renewable heat, it recommends.

Good opportunity for investment in renewable energy

“There is a very good opportunity for investment in renewables in Scotland given scheduled retirement of existing plant and abundant wind and other renewable resources,” it explains. Financial support for renewable energy will be determined by the UK Government, with transmission access rules set by the regulator Ofgem.

“Given that planning has been a major barrier to renewables projects and their connection in recent years, there is a crucial role for the Scottish Government in ensuring that projects gain planning approval going forward, both as regards renewable generation and supporting investments in transmission network strengthening and expansion,” it states.

“Devolved levers relating to research and development and skills policies will also have a role in supporting the deployment of low-carbon power sources.”

Scotland has a particular advantage in renewable heat due to its access to local forestry for biomass and with rural homes off the gas grid that currently may have emissions-intensive heating systems. The government should encourage increased penetration of renewable heat technologies (biogas, biomass boilers, biomass CHP) across residential, commercial, public and industrial sectors.

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Bioenergy  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Green building  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling  •  Wave and tidal energy  •  Wind power