Renewables take centre stage in Scotland

The timing could not have been more apt. Just as it was announced that wind turbines had generated more electricity than gas in the UK for the first time, the Scottish and UK renewables and decarbonisation community met at the annual All-Energy Conference in Glasgow last week.

I’ve been attending All-Energy for many years from its early beginnings in Aberdeen. This year’s conference felt larger and busier than many I’ve attended. Was there a new wind in the renewable sector’s sails?

Renewables growth
Certainly, in Scotland, energy and planning policy is being steered in the sector’s favour. The recently adopted National Planning Framework 4 paves the way for onshore renewables, complemented by an onshore energy strategy that envisages a further 12GW of onshore renewables installed capacity – let alone the huge growth in offshore renewables. A new sector deal with the wind sector remains on schedule for early autumn and there is a sense of greater collaboration with the Scottish Government following the publication of the recent consultation on renewable energy, which should be finalised later this year.

The Scottish market looks very open for renewable and decarbonisation technology, with strong interest from overseas investors, as well as home-grown companies. It came as little surprise then that the exhibitor’s hall was brimming this year at All-Energy, with over 200 exhibitors and a buzz of activity throughout the two-day event.

Scottish Government Ministers were also in plentiful supply. As well as the First Minister opening the event, attendees included Energy Minister, Gillian Martin; Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart; Minister for Green Skills, as well as the two Scottish Green Party Ministers. That was in contrast to the UK Government, which had recently reiterated support for gas and oilfield exploration, kept a lower profile.

Yet, while there was general support for the Scottish Government’s support to the wind sector, challenges remain. Major constraints, such as grid access and planning department resources, remain.  Without action to address some of these constraints, the inward flow of investment into the sector ay start to dry up.

The wider decarbonisation agenda
While much of the focus of the event naturally hung on wind, this year much of the buzz was around hydrogen and the potential of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCUS). The First Minister used his opening speech to announce funding to new hydrogen projects across Scotland. Both the First Minister and the Energy Minister urged the UK Government to accelerate the timeline for confirming the Acorn CO2 project, asserting that carbon capture and storage is essential in reducing emissions in difficult to decarbonise industries.

But many wider challenges remain for the Scottish and UK Government. Two issues alone were hot topics for debate – decarbonising transport and housing stock. On the decarbonisation of transport, the challenge for industry to move towards non-fossil fuels was highlighted by hauliers and wholesalers. Heat transition is another difficult area. While the Heat in Buildings Public Engagement Strategy is expected to be published later this year, even the Scottish Government admits it will cost at least £33 billion in investment to transform building stock by 2045.

All-Energy demonstrated the vibrancy of the Scottish renewables market, but also highlighted some of the fractures between the UK and Scottish Governments. Without action to address some of the significant constraints on the Scottish energy market, the renewables revolution may start to falter. And while other technologies are coming through and have strong political backing, the route map to delivery still seems less than clear. The challenge is for industry to make sure that both the UK and Scottish Government can bring further clarity by the time it meets again at the next All-Energy conference.

If you would like to know more about Scotland and the UK’s energy strategy, please contact Ross Laird at ross.laird@grayling.com.