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Scotland the brave?

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced that Scotland’s renewable electricity target for 2020 is being raised from 50% to 80% of electricity consumption, putting Scotland well in the lead in the EU. He’s also said that 100% by 2025 was possible.

Scotland’s existing 50% target was established in 2007 and, aided by a rapid expansion in wind power, the country is on course to exceed its interim target of 31% in 2011. According to the Scottish government, much higher levels of renewables could be deployed by 2020 with little change to Scotland’s current policy, planning or regulation framework. A separate study commissioned by industry body Scottish Renewables, reported similar conclusions- 123% was possible! And Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie even called for setting a 100% renewable target, ‘perhaps even before 2020’!

The Scottish Renewables’ report notes that, since the original 50% target was implemented in 2007, industry and government have announced agreements for 10.6GW of offshore wind development, commitments to 1.2GW of wave and tidal power in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, 1.2GW of additional potential hydro capacity and proposals for over 500MW of biomass heat and power. It says that, together, even a small proportion of these plans would add significant capacity to Scotland’s generation mix, changing the scale of development that Scotland can achieve over the next decade and beyond.

At present, Scotland has installed 7GW of renewables, under construction or consented. Salmond claimed that, given the scale of lease agreements now in place to develop offshore wind, wave and tidal projects over the next decade, ‘it is clear that we can well exceed the existing 50% target by 2020.’ He may be right, but 80% by 2020 is stunningly ambitious. Even the Centre for Alternative Technology only looked to 2030 in their ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, and that was pushing it very hard. While visionary scenarios can inspire/ motivate people to try harder, they have to be at least in principle credible. But unless there is a radical deployment/infrastructure development programme, beyond anything so far discussed, getting to 80% by 2030 might be a bit more realistic for Scotland.

They do seem to be trying though, with their own versions of support schemes that are much more ambitious than those so far introduced by the Whitehall government (e.g. under the Renewables Obligation Scotland they offer 5ROCs/MWh for wave energy projects and 3ROCs/Mwh for tidal projects, compared with the 2ROCs/MWh offered by the UK-wide RO schemes). And Scotland also has a direct grant-support system for marine renewables which has provided £13m for wave and tidal projects so far. Plus a £10m Saltire prize for marine renewables.

However, this may not be enough, an implication that emerges from a new report by Geoff Wood from Dundee University, which looks critically at the way the Scottish government has adjusted the Renewable Obligation Scotland. ‘Renewable Energy Policy in Scotland: An Analysis of the Impact of Internal and External Failures on Renewable Energy Deployment Targets to 2020’ is available at

Nevertheless there is no denying that Scottish government is pressing ahead hard. It has outlined its plans for achieving ambitious targets for reducing emissions by 42% by 2020, after a draft order to set annual emissions targets for 2010–22 was laid in parliament. The targets proposed in the draft order take account of advice from the Committee on Climate Change and the deliberations of a cross party working group over the summer. The annual targets for 2011–2022 start at 0.5% for 2011 and end with 3% for 2022, peaking at 9.9% in 2013 – going further than those recommended by the Committee. Scottish climate-change minister, Stewart Stevenson, said: ‘Scotland has the most ambitious climate-change legislation anywhere in the world and these annual targets set a clear framework for achieving our 2020 target’.

It’s certainly bold stuff. The SNP is clearly being courageous – some might say adventuristic. But even if their brave targets are not met, Scotland will still be doing more than many countries. And their non-nuclear approach does seem to be popular. A recent poll by the Scotsman newspaper found that only 18% of Scots supported new nuclear construction:

You do have to be careful with poll data. An earlier YouGov poll for EDF found that 47% of Scots supported replacing existing nuclear plants when they closed. But it also found that 80% backed offshore wind farms and 69% were in favour of onshore turbines. It looks like they will get what they want in that area.

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