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Tag Archives: Scotland

Scotland shows the way forward

By Dave Elliott

Scotland is now generating the equivalent of around 60% of its annual electricity needs from renewables, mostly wind, and is aiming for 100%, with new nuclear blocked unilaterally. So it is a little surprising that there have not been more studies of this unique initiative. That’s soon to change with a new book, ‘A critical review of Scottish Energy Policy’ by a group of Scottish academics edited by Geoff Wood and Keith Baker, to be published by Palgrave next month. It focuses on renewables and low carbon options and related policy, planning, legislation and regulation issues.

It is a very timely publication, given that, after Brexit, Scotland may vote to go fully independent. It is already quite independent, with its own devolved government and a clearly different and very progressive energy policy. What’s not to like? Well not everything is ideal, as this new book explains. But the overwhelming message is that, despite the endless debate about whether renewables can work large-scale, here’s a country actually doing it.


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DECC Reviews Renewables

By Dave Elliott

In its 2014 review of renewable energy policy, part of its Electricity Market Reform deployment exercise, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change outlined how it saw each key option developing:
There have certainly been some changes since its 2011 Renewable Roadmap, which selected eight technologies as likely to be key to meeting the UK’s 2020 renewables targets.
PV solar was not amongst the selected eight. But now it’s a front runner. In its new report DECC says, ‘We consider solar PV now to be an established technology in the UK,’ and with 2.7GW or more in place that’s clearly true. And they add ‘Solar is anticipated to be the first large-scale renewable technology to be able to deploy without financial support at some point in the mid-to-late 2020s’. Didn’t it do well! Despite the cuts in Feed In Tariffs. DECCs main concern now seem to be that PV, especially solar farms, will expand too fast! They note that ‘Solar PV is a technology which can be deployed quickly even at large scale’. But they are worried about the costs and eco-impacts of large ground mounted projects and would prefer Building Integrated schemes, large and small. On costs, they accept that these are falling (which is why take-up has grown) and will continue to fall (in part due to the take-up), but they say ‘because the UK is a small part of the global market, it is likely that these cost reductions will largely occur independently of what the UK does’. And they have sought to limit the cost pass-through to consumers, most notably by entirely cutting Renewables Obligation (RO) support for large projects. Otherwise they say they might reach 5GW by 2020! Nevertheless they still talk of an overall possible 10GW of PV by 2020 and perhaps even 20 GW.

Wind power did feature strongly in the 2011 DECC review, offshore especially. Now, despite being the cheapest of the main new renewables, on land-wind has fallen out of favour in some circles (e.g.due to vociferous campaigning and some local opposition), although, as DECC says, ‘current installed capacity in the UK is 7.3GW, with a further 1.5GW under construction’ and ‘there is also a large potential pipeline of UK projects with 5.4 GW having received planning consent and a further 6.5GW currently in the planning system. This means we are well on our way to reaching our ambition for 11-13GW of onshore wind by 2020’. But by contrast offshore wind is seen the biggie: ‘Offshore wind is the most scalable of the renewable technologies, and it is the renewable technology that has the most potential to make a significant contribution to decarbonisation goals, if required. There is significant long-term potential for cost reduction and it is at an early stage of deployment – DECC’s central estimate is a 25-30% reduction in central costs by 2030, which could be higher depending on the level of deployment between now and then. The UK is the market leader for offshore wind, with the biggest pipeline to 2020, and deployment in the UK is therefore a key driver of cost reduction to 2020’. DECC had earlier said up to 39GW was possible by 2030. But that depended on the market.

Wave and tidal stream also featured in DECC’s 2011 Renewable Energy Roadmap, which suggested that there could be 200-300 MW of marine capacity by 2020. That was much less than the 1-2 GW forecast in the Government’s Marine Energy Action Plan 2010, or even the 1.3GW by 2020 UK figure in the EU Renewable Energy Action Plan. And although the UK is still in the lead in this area, the new DECC Review reduces its expectations further: ‘Wave and tidal stream technologies are still at the demonstration stage and are not currently competing in the mainstream market. There are currently around c.10MW of wave and tidal stream capacity deployed in sea trial around the UK – more than the rest of the world combined. We anticipate that by 2020, wave and tidal stream could reach 100-150MW in the UK alone. This deployment could then increase quickly beyond 2020 to reach GW-levels in the late 2020s-early 2030s’.

Unlike heat pumps (still strongly backed), geothermal wasn’t in DECCs 2011 key options list, but a 2012 SKM study claimed that it could supply 20% of UK electricity from around 9.5GW of capacity. The new DECC review however relies on a 2013 Atkins report on deep geothermal power which suggested a possible best case potential of up to 3-4% of current average UK electricity demand. So it’s still seen as something of an outsider option, although worth backing.

By contrast, DECC is still very enamored of biomass, including EfW combustion, advanced gasification/pyrolysis, biomass CHP and AD from farm and other wastes. There are limits though, mainly related to land use constraints and concerns about the sustainability of importing biomass pellets for large biomass conversion plants. I’ll be looking at that in my next but one post.

The new DECC renewables review is just about electricity supplies, so it doesn’t look at solar or biomass heat (both being pushed quite hard by the Renewable Heat Incentive), or biofuels (on which progress is less spectacular). But arguably it does add up to a package might help the UK meet it 2020 15% renewable energy target. However, with the various cuts and uncertainties about the effects of the new Contracts for a Difference support system, that is not certain: DECC has just imposed a £205m p.a. cap on renewable CfD allocations up to 2020 which may constrain new offshore wind and large PV solar projects seriously. I will be looking at that in my next post. And beyond 2020 there are no renewables targets, with, under current policies, the continued expansion of renewables likely to be constrained by the commitment to nuclear and maybe shale gas CCS. But policies can change and with renewables costs falling, they may break through further and accelerate more, so there is still all to play for.

If so, what about grid balancing? DECC has confirmed that it will be seeking 53GW of contracted capacity for the new ‘capacity market’ for 2018/19, to help deal with supply shortfalls due to demand peaks, variable renewable inputs and plant or grid failures. For the moment much of this will involve existing gas plants that might otherwise be closed, given the increased output from renewables, but will be needed occasionally when that output is low. However any facility that can provide grid balancing services can apply to the capacity auction process in December, including storage and demand management. Contracted capacity will get a cash incentive for being available. DECC says it will add £2p to average annual consumer bills over the period 2014-30.

So what next? Given its excellent renewable resources, clearly in principle the UK could, if it wanted to, at least match the German ambition of getting 80% of electricity from renewables by 2050. Assuming that is Scotland, which has most of the resources, is still part of the UK! noted that about 15 GW of 2020 renewables will be in Scotland or in Scottish waters. Only about 18 GW will be in England and Wales. So it said Independence would mean around 40% of total UK renewables capacity would disappear, but only 10% of UK electricity consumption.

DECC sees it differently, arguing that Scotland’s small population would not be able to sustain the cost of its large renewables capacity without the RO income from the rest of the UK – or a £189 p.a increase on Scottish consumer’s bills. But in reality wouldn’t the UK have to buy in, and continue to support, Scottish green power to meet it renewable targets? DECC also sees the nuclear issue differently, and, with the European Commission currently looking at the UK’s proposals for funding the EdF Hinkley project, Westminster has evidently warned the (anti nuclear) Scottish government that any negative representation it made to Brussels on this would be viewed as a ‘hostile act’.
Clearly the independence referendum is going to be a lively affair!

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Scotland – isolated or leading?

By Dave Elliott

It has been claimed that if Scotland goes independent of the UK it will find it hard to sustain its ambitious renewable energy programme, which aims to match 100% of Scottish electricity use from renewables by 2020. It already gets over 36%, but that expansion has partly been due to the support of the UK-wide Renewables Obligation, which passes on the cost to all UK electricity consumers. The income from just Scottish consumers (10% of the UK) would clearly be much less. A report by Dave Toke and others, “Delivering renewable energy under devolution”, published in Political Quarterly, says that “funding a significant expansion of Scottish-based offshore renewables under independence would lead to considerable increases in Scottish electricity prices, something that a Scottish government would find hard to sustain politically”.

However it is not clear whether, after independence, it would come to that. The new (lesser!) UK would need the Scottish projects to meet its renewable-energy targets, if they were still to be retained, so the new UK would have to continue to support Scottish projects, new and old. The Scottish government said that it “believes the current, integrated GB electricity market should continue post-independence, as it’s in our mutual interests. Given Scotland’s vast renewable resources, with independence, it will be in the rest of the UK’s overwhelming interests to ensure support arrangements are in place to secure Scottish renewable energy”:


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Scotland takes the green road

The devolved Scottish government has produced a 2020 Routemap outlining its new targets for meeting 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs and 30% of its overall energy needs from renewables by 2020. Scotland already meets over 27% of electricity demand from renewables and the government said that it is on target to reach its existing target of 11% of heat from renewables by 2020 So it thought that, with the ambitious electricity target, it can expand its total energy target to 30%. [

However, its plans have been called unrealistic, unachievable and not in the best interests of energy consumers, in a report from Inverness-based Mackay Consultants. Tony Mackay, lead author of the ‘Prospects for Scotland’s Energy Industries 2011-20’ report, told the Scottish Herald the general standard of the reports used to back the plans ‘has been very poor and in many cases very biased,’ and argued that the electricity industry accounted for only 18% of final energy consumption in 2010, much lower than the 42% share for petroleum products- mainly petrol and diesel for transport- and the 37% for natural gas- mainly for heating. So he said ‘it is difficult to understand why electricity generation is such a high priority’. Presumably the answer is that, as in the UK, some electricity will be used for heating and for transport, and there should be a lot of it available.

Certainly, in response to Mackay’s comments, the Scottish Government stressed that the target is for Scotland to generate twice what is needed to meet all its electricity demands, with 100% of electricity from renewables and the same again from other sources: ‘This analysis is wrong. Scotland already produces more than one-quarter of electricity from renewables and we have enough renewables capacity installed, under construction or consented to provide almost 60% of our electricity needs. By 2020, Scotland will be generating double the amount of electricity we need, with additional electricity generation met by clean energy plants progressively fitted with carbon capture and storage technology.’

And Niall Stewart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, told the Herald ‘we stand by all our research. The industry is very confident these targets are achievable and indeed there is already more than enough in the pipeline.’

Writing in International Sustainable Energy Review he explained ‘essentially, Scotland will export a percentage of its total electricity generated across the UK and further afield to Europe when output from renewables is high, and will depend on electricity from nuclear and fossil-fuelled generation and imports when output is low’.

Put that way, it doesn’t sound quite so radical or daunting. In particular, note that, although no new plants are envisaged, the plan still relies on Scotlands two existing nuclear plants- and their operational life may be extended. Scottish National Party energy minister, Fergus Ewing, speaking in a Holyrood debate on the 100% renewable routemap, said: ‘We are perfectly open to an extension of the life of the existing nuclear power stations provided that case is justified on economic and environmental grounds and therefore we recognise that that case exists and it exists because of the need to secure security of supply. That is something that we have always recognised whilst we are opposed clearly to building new nuclear power stations.’

A SNP government spokesman denied there had been a change in policy- they had always accepted that the life of Hunterston and Torness could be extended, and anyway they had no powers to prevent this. But they could block new nuclear plants through the planning process.

Friends of the Earth Scotland saw it as ‘deeply disturbing and utterly disappointing. The SNP has always been viewed as anti-nuclear and I’m sure many SNP voters will feel quite misled when they learn that this is not the case anymore.’ That is perhaps overstating it- the SNP has made clear it is still against any new plants. But there are worries about life extensions. Hunterston B, which will be 40 years old when its current license runs out in 2016, was already the focus of safety concerns, and FoE had already urged Ewing to commission an independent review of the risks of continuing to run reactors. Torness, near Edinburgh, which is due to run until 2023, had to be shut down recently because of sudden influx of jellyfish around its water intake pipe!

Meanwhile Scotland’s renewables expansion programme has not always been going exactly to plan. Although its mainstay, wind power, is doing well, with 3.4GW in place and around 20GW seen as possible, including about 10GW offshore, wave energy has had some problems. Pelamis Wave Power, the Scottish firm championed by SNP leader Alex Salmond as an example of Scotlands emerging marine economy, is to lay off nearly a third of its employees. The Edinburgh-based wave power developer has announced a major restructuring which will cut at least 20 of its 70 highly skilled posts. Pelamis is moving to a new phase of the development of its Pelamis P2 articulated ‘wave snake’ device, built for Eon and Scottish Power Renewables, and said the job losses were a result of a shift from a ‘manufacturing focus to an operational phase’. With more projects likely expected, this may be just a temporary blip, but perhaps more seriously, RWE npower renewables has pulled out of the 4MW Siadar Oscillating Water Column wave project on the Scottish island of Lewis., leaving the main developer, UK wave pioneer Wavegen, now owned by Voith Hyro, in an uncertain position.

However it is not all bad news. Pentland Orkney Wave Energy Resource (POWER) Ltd’s 28 MW project has been selected by DECC to be put forward to the European Investment Bank for consideration for funding under the EU’s New Entrant Reserve scheme. It would have 10 Aquamarine near-shore Oyster hinged-flap wave devices and 24 offshore Pelamis machines, with a single point of connection to the grid. In parallel, progress is being made on the various tidal stream projects. Indeed RWE said that “Tidal seems simpler to develop and it’s going to be easier and quicker to develop than the Siadar [wave] technology.”

Overall, the SNP plan says it should be possible to have over 5GW of wave and tidal capacity installed off the Scottish coast, with the 1.6GW programme for the Pentland Firth area seen as just the start. Projects within that have completion dates in and around 2020, with tidal stream projects dominating.

There is currently about 7 GW of renewables capacity installed, under construction or consented around Scotland, and this should enable it to exceed its interim target of 31% of its electricity demand from renewables in 2011. That’s well ahead of the UK as a whole. According to DECCs latest statistics, by the end of 2010 the UK had reached 6.8% of UK electricity and 3.3% of total energy. The UK target is 15% of total energy from renewables by 2020. Cleary the Scottish contribution would help – if it can be achieved. But 100% of electricity by 2020- contributing to 30% of total energy? That’s really pushing it.

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A Christmas whimsy- and an unwanted present

As a lapsed nuclear physicist, nowadays active in the renewable energy policy area, I sometimes make forays back to see how the subject in progressing.

I once worked in high-energy physics, so it’s interesting to see how fusion research is moving on. A while back I did a tour of Culham and was impressed by the dedication of the research staff there- who seem prepared to spend their careers churning through data from endless JET runs, while knowing that it will be many decades before anything solid comes of it by way of a viable energy device. Maybe I’m just unable to defer gratification that long! But, more prosaically, I was also struck by the row of bottles in the toilet- for staff urine samples. That reminded me of one of the reasons why I got out of nuclear research. It seems that, while often touted as being a ‘clean’ option, fusion still has safety issues, just like fission.

I see that the EU is trying to find a way to maintain funding for the follow-up, ITER in France, after it was discovered that there was a €1.4bn shortfall in the EU budget for the programme over the 2012-3 period. One option considered was to raid the EU 7th Framework research programme, but that would have reduced funding for other projects. It seems that the start of ITER construction may have to be pushed back to 2012. The EU’s eventual contribution to construction is now expected to be around €6.6 bn. It seems a lot of money for a very long-term project, which may (or may not) eventually lead to a technically and economically viable energy device sometime after mid century. No help then with our current energy problems.

More recently I visited CERN in Geneva and the Large Hadron Collider, and went round their ATLAS project display. Sadly visitors can’t go underground, but it is still an impressive project. Another €6 billions worth I’m told. Pure curiosity-led research, although their PR made much of the training aspects, international collaboration, and technical spin-off possibilities.

Well yes, but €6 billion would go a long way to helping us develop cheaper more efficient renewable energy technologies. As would the €6bn for ITER. It may be good to try to develop novel energy options for the very long term, and to know what happened in the first few nano-seconds after the Big Bang, but personally, I’m more concerned about what will happen in the next few years as we try to grapple with climate change and energy security.

However, there is no denying that ‘big science’ can be intriguing, inspiring and even fun! So, good luck to them. But spare a thought for the hard pressed innovators trying to develop and deploy new solar, wind, wave, tidal and bioenergy systems in an ever more competitive and risk averse market environment, often with minimal state funding.

We did get a Christmas present of sorts though from the UK government – a set of proposals for Electricity Market Reform, including, maybe, a new form of support for low carbon technologies. They say it’s a Feed-In Tariff, but the variant they seem to favour has variable market determined prices and possibly involves a contract auction/tendering process. I know it’s traditional not to like your Xmas presents, but I wonder if we can swop the one they are offering with a proper fixed-price Feed In Tariff, of the sort that has worked so well in Germany.

I have a horrible suspicion that what actually has happened, as occasionally does at Christmas, is that they have wrapped up an old unwanted, discarded present from a few years back to try to offload it – in this case the old Non Fossil Fuel Obligation. The NFFO used a contact tendering process and led to lots of optimistic bids for renewable energy projects, many of which were then given to go ahead on the basis of price/capacity conflation. Tragically though, very few projects actually happened- developers often found they couldn’t deliver at the price they had specified to win the contract.

As with the system that was eventually to replace the NFFO , the Renewables Obligation, the competitive mechanism in the NFFO also meant that only the most developed renewables got supported- sewage gas, landfill gas and then wind. And it could be the same with the proposed new ‘auction contracts for difference’ system- emerging options, such as wave and tidal stream, could be squeezed out. As Chris Huhne put it, there was the risk that ‘the contract arrangements exclude technologies that may in the long run actually perform a very useful role in providing low-carbon electricity.’ So some other form of support might have to be offered.

It’s good that the government has recognised, at long last, that the Renewables Obligation has problems, and is prepared to phase it out. That will cause disruption of course, but we have to make changes – the RO is an expensive way of subsidising a limited range of projects (the relatively high payments may be why some who get projects supported under it, like it). But before we throw away the wrapping on its proposed replacement, maybe we could ask, via the handy consultation process that is attached, for a proper fixed-price FiT, and while we are at it, one that doesn’t also support nuclear. That was the really unwelcome part of the present- if nuclear projects are eligible for support they could well squeeze out renewable projects. Indeed some even see that as the aim:

Certainly anti-nuclear Scotland won’t want anything to do with it. Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, said ‘it could see support mechanisms for nuclear generation in England at the expense of renewable energy sources and CCS [carbon capture and storage] in Scotland.’ Oh dear. Whatever happened to peace and good will to all men.

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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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Who wants nuclear power? (Part 1)

Not Wales, or Scotland…they want renewables

The Welsh Assembly Government’s new Energy Policy Statement ‘A Low Carbon Revolution’, sets out an approach to accelerating the transition to a low carbon energy economy in Wales, focusing on efficiency measures and the use of indigenous renewable forms of energy such as marine, wind, solar and biomass. It claims that by 2025 around 40% of electricity in Wales could come from marine sources and a third from wind.

In addition to local community-level micro-generation projects, it proposes the use of offshore wind around the coast of Wales in order to deliver a 15 kWh/d/p (per day per person) of capacity by 2015/16 and to capture at least 10% (8 kWh/d/p) of the potential tidal stream and wave energy off the Welsh coastline by 2025, and it wants onshore wind to deliver 4.5 kWh/d/p of installed onshore wind generation capacity by 2015/2017. It will back small-scale hydro and geothermal schemes, where they are environmentally acceptable, in order to generate at least 1 kWh/d/p, and wants bioenergy/waste to deliver up to 6 kWh/d/p of electricity by 2020 – 50% indigenous/50% imported – also offering an additional heat potential of 2–2.5 kWh/d/p.

It says that ‘any new fossil fuel plants should be carbon capture ready with fully developed plans for carbon capture and storage; and that these plants maximise efficiency through use of waste heat and co-firing where appropriate’ but adds ‘we remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low-carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations’.;jsessionid=xhyPLpMdtJ7TT1gcXtkhq87y4tyk9f9y2QBvDh8Rjj9bGn0ghhqy!-1820637139?lang=en

That puts Wales in the almost the same situation as Scotland. Although its renewable resource may not be as large as that in Scotland, Wales sees no need to develop new nuclear plants.

Scotland of course has been making that case for some while, with the ruling Scottish National Party being implacable opposed to new nuclear, much to the annoyance of the Westminster government. Equally resolutely, the Scottish government has backed renewables. As a result, Scotland now generates around 30% of its electricity demand from renewables, with the contribution from on-land wind (with over 2GW of capacity in place) having overtaken that from hydro, and by 2020 the intention is to reach at least 50%, with wave and tidal power making major contributions.

Scotland’s marine renewable resource is certainly very large, SNP leader Alex Salmond described Pentland firth as making Scotland ‘the Saudi Arabia of marine energy’. 1.2GW of wave and tidal current projects has now got the go ahead in Pentland Firth and Orkney waters and the potential has been put at up to 20GW or more.

The Scottish government has been pushing ahead, most recently via a new £12m Wave and Tidal Energy: Research, Development and Demonstration Support fund – to be known as WATERS – to support the testing of new wave and tidal prototypes in the seas around Scotland. It also has a revenue support system offering five Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for every MWh of power produced and tidal systems and three ROCs per MWh for wave systems – well in excess of the UK national support system, which only offers 2ROCs/MWh for wave and tidal current projects. In addition, the £10m Saltire Prize, funded by the Scottish government, aims to accelerate the development of commercially viable marine energy. The winning entry, to be chosen in 2017, will be required to harness tides or waves to generate 100MW of electricity over a two-year trial undertaken at some point between 2012 and 2017.

However, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth John Swinney has noted that electricity from wind and marine energy was not the only option. Scotland’s new Renewable Action Plan also focuses on renewable heat and he says: ‘Heat from renewables needs to rise tenfold in the next decade and we will investigate all options to boost the sector, from large scale industrial plants, more energy from biomass and waste, through to microgeneration. We will support growth in, and diversification into, the renewable heat sector with further targeted inward investment.’

The plan outlines a range of ideas consistent with the targets to achieve 50% of electricity and 11% of heat from renewable sources by 2020.

Meanwhile Scotland is sticking to its anti-nuclear position. A 126-page report ‘Determining and Delivering on Scotland’s Energy Future’, from the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, say: “Scotland does not need a new generation of nuclear power stations to be constructed”. Instead, the committee calls for “markedly” increased investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner fossil fired thermal plants, and if necessary, the construction of a new generation of larger fossil-plants with future carbon capture.

Nevertheless, in a slight concession, it adds that, since most of its existing coal plants and its two old nuclear stations, Hunterston B, and Torness, are scheduled to close and it will take time for the renewables to catch up, ‘there will be a need to extend the operating lifetimes of the current generation of nuclear power stations in Scotland to allow time for the transition to a new electricity system’.

That of course has to be put in context. As SNP MSP Dave Thompson told Newsnight Scotland, ‘At the moment we export 20% of the electricity we produce, which is roughly equivalent to the electricity produced by nuclear in Scotland. If nuclear closed down tomorrow, we would still be producing enough electricity to keep us going in Scotland. What we have to look to is the future, where as we develop renewables: we’re going to be producing potentially ten times the amount of electricity we actually need in Scotland, so we’re going to be exporting massive amounts of electricity to other countries. There’s no point in bringing on new nuclear power stations. We just don’t need them (and) the Scottish public don’t want them.’

The latter assertion may be stretching the point a little. A survey in 2009 of 3,000 people in Scotland, conducted by the Holyrood administration, found that 53% of thought that nuclear energy will be needed in the future to help ensure a secure energy supply, although more people said they preferred renewables to nuclear by a margin of two to one.

As I will be exploring in my next blog entry, subsequently the pro-nuclear position may have strengthened, in Scotland and elsewhere, but the renewables are still supported much more strongly and the Scottish government, like the Welsh Assembly government, has clearly focussed on that.

And there the matter rest for now. None of the proposed 10 new UK nuclear sites are in Scotland or in N.Ireland. One though is in Wales, at Wylfa. Whether that will survive Welsh opposition remains to be seen. It could well be that they will all be in England with, under coalition agreement rules, the strongly anti-nuclear Lib Dems now being unable to vote in opposition, leaving just the Green Party to fight that corner.

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