11 November 2015

The Scottish Government’s ambition to produce the equivalent of 100% of the country’s electricity consumption from renewables continues to cause debate among industry leaders, just four years ahead of the 2020 target.
Wind Energy Concept

In a spirited forum at university of Edinburgh Business School this week experts failed to agree on how the target will be reached.

Speaking at the British Institute of Energy Economics and Business School event, a panel of leading industry figures said significant barriers stood in the way of the commitment becoming reality by 2020.

Scotland currently generates close to half (49.6 %) of its electricity through wind, wave or solar energy.

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables questioned current UK Government support. He said:

Renewables are absolutely on track to hit the 2015 target of generating the equivalent of half the country’s annual power demand – thanks to the growth of onshore wind. However, the lack of clarity from Westminster on the future of support for our offshore wind sector means that we could end up short of the capacity required there to hit our 2020 target of 100%. But even if we do meet our 2020 aims, there is absolutely no framework in place to support investment in renewables into the next decade, leaving major questions about the future of the industry – and how Scotland and the UK will meet their stretching but incredibly important climate change targets.

Dr Gbenga Ibikunle, Lecturer in Financial Markets at University of Edinburgh Business School raised concerns about the deployment of public resources in support renewable energy generators. He said:

“Government has a significant role to play in ensuring the development of renewable technologies. But funnelling public money to subsidise any industry is not the answer in the long term.

“Evidence suggests the greatest benefit to society is achieved when support comes in the form of grants to non-profit research institutions, rather than to producers themselves.

“Achieving the 2020 target will require significant investment in ageing electricity infrastructure the country’s current finances can ill afford.”

But there was consensus on the need to focus industry efforts on carbon reduction goals beyond 2020.

Ian Marchant, Wood Group Chairman, spoke at length about the importance of renewable heat, which makes up 55% of the energy used in Scotland, and of energy efficiency in hitting 2020 targets.

He said:

“Scotland is soon to get powers on energy efficiency – they are coming – and those powers, if we want to reach our energy targets, should be focused laser-like on getting heat demand down.

“We need to ensure that the public sector drives heat. The best sources of heat are public buildings – our schools and hospitals – because we know they will be around for 20 or more years, which can’t be said of industry.

“What we have in Scotland is a huge advantage in terms of engineering skill and of natural resource. We should be the green energy capital of Europe, and if we play to our strengths we can make that happen.”

With the country contributing less than 0.1% of all carbon emissions globally, experts stressed the need to exert more pressure on the most polluting countries, with more robust carbon taxation.

Dr Gbenga Ibikunle continued:

It’s time to focus on longer-term carbon reduction internationally. When you consider G7 nations have only just agreed to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century, a more gradual transition is needed.

Professor Charles Hendry, BIEE President, summed up the evening’s debate by describing how he believes targets provide a positive framework in which industry and government can work together. He said:

"Targets give us a vision. They say we want to go in a certain direction, that we want to do better and that we recognise there is more that we can do.

“Just five years ago no-one would have said that those 2020 targets for the UK were achievable.

“Now everybody thinks that they are achievable and everybody knows that we can get there, and without the 2020 renewable electricity targets that would not have happened.”