Scotland’s Emissions Reduction Targets

A new report from independent government advisors at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have stated that Scotland must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly two thirds over the next fourteen years in order to make its climate targets. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act requires emissions reductions of at least 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 and despite the country having missed all four of its interim annual targets, though adjusted accounting techniques have been blamed, the report said it should continue its high-ambition strategy towards its world-leading goals as set out in 2009.

In the most recently available figures emissions have fallen by 38% from the 1990 level (which was taken as the baseline). The CCC report suggests further reductions of 61% by 2030 in order to reach its overall targets. The CCC state that this can be achieved but that the level of positive action must be increased in order to do so.

Lord Deben the Committee on Climate Change chairman said “There is a lot of positive action already under way in Scotland, driven by both its vibrant renewable sector and its bold policy approaches.

“This must now be accelerated. New policies will be required to meet these ambitious but achievable carbon objectives. With these actions Scotland can continue as an example to the rest of the UK in its approach to address climate change.”

Different technologies suggested include low-carbon heating systems, an increase in electric vehicles, expanding renewable energy networks and a nationwide tree planting drive.

The report and its findings have been welcomed by environmentalists despite the country being only three quarters of the way towards its 2020 goal.

Jim Densham, from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said “The advice from the UK CCC describes a rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards a clean, renewable-energy future. This is a powerful reminder that all political parties need to step up action.”

However ministers insist that we can achieve our 2050 commitment. Aileen McLeod Environment and Climate Change minister said “We are on track to exceed our 2020 target for a 42 per cent reduction from baseline levels in greenhouse gas emissions and have outperformed the UK as a whole in every year since 2010. The committee’s current advice on how best to maintain our high ambition approach will be taken into account when Scotland’s next batch of targets is set in October.”

Renewable energy production has been a success in Scotland although it will need to continue to grow at the same rate as the last five years in order to achieve these targets. Heat generation and transport also account for large proportion of our carbon emissions (potentially up to 75%) and therefore these need to be tackled head on should we hope to be successful.

Recently Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, wrote in Business Quarter about the need to address these two in order for us to continue with the good work we have already done. In his report he mentions two businesses making great strides in these areas; “East Lothian-based business Sunamp, which uses cutting-edge ‘phase-change materials’ to store excess electricity as heat and deliver it later as hot water; and Edinburgh-based start-up Celtic Renewables, which last year became the first company in the world to produce a biofuel capable of powering cars from residues of the whisky industry. Both these businesses are at the very forefront of renewable energy research.”

It was also recently announced the Scottish Government has awarded the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust £1.2 million for their Heat Smart Orkney project. This project aims to directly pump the renewable energy generated from the local community owned wind turbines into the local residents heating systems.

At present, due to consistent high winds, renewable energy generation on the islands has to be reduced with turbines having to be switched off. This project however will use the excess power and divert it to either electric flow boilers or new stand alone boilers and hot water immersion heaters in domestic residences.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing speaking at the annual Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) Conference in Stirling announced that nine projects would receive a share of over £10 million to support innovative large-scale low carbon local energy projects through the Local Energy Challenge Fund. Launched in August 2014, the fund aims to demonstrate the value and benefit of local low carbon energy economies that link energy generation to energy use.

The push to attain our carbon emission targets must reach new levels if we are to be successful. Our preference would be for more new renewable energy generation developments but we are also aware that mix of new efficient technologies and projects must be added to the mix. We agree with Niall Stuart in that heat generation and transport energy use pose huge obstacles which we must overcome however the projects like Heat Smart Orkney show that there is potential that this can be achieved.

As technologies advance and cost reduce more of these types of projects can be implemented but we cannot stop there, we must continue to push to find new solutions and only then will be capable of realising our greenhouse gas emission reductions.

 

The Case for Renewable Energy

A new YouGov survey commissioned by Scottish Renewables has again shown that renewable energy is the popular source of power in Scotland. The survey revealed that 62% of the 1000 surveyed would support a large-scale wind turbine installation in their local area compared with 32% who would support nuclear and 24% for shale gas extraction (fracking).

The poll also found that 75% of those surveyed would rather the majority of their electricity was generated from low carbon sources with hydro at 27% being the most popular choice followed by wind at 18%, solar at 15% and nuclear at 13%. Coal and gas was only chosen by 3% each and shale 1%.

70% of those polled stated that they would like more energy generation from renewable sources such as wind, solar, tidal, and wave with two thirds of those asked agreeing that Scotland’s next government should “continue to take forward policies that tackle greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.”

Only 19% of the responses were in favour of fracking being prioritised by the new governments and 42% stated that the government should not favour building new or extending the life of coal and gas power stations. 33% answered that new nuclear plants should be prioritised.

Also a number of renewable technologies were chosen when asked if they would consider installing any device to help with their own energy needs. Solar panels were the most popular choice followed by wind turbines, biomass boilers, heat pumps and small-scale hydro turbines.

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “The poll suggests that the people of Scotland continue to be strongly behind the growth of renewable energy, with support for the sector way ahead of any other.

“Just months after the Paris climate change agreement, the poll also shows clear support for Scotland’s next government to prioritise policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Renewable energy’s popularity should be noted by the UK government as well it was revealed last week that the UK was not on track to meet its fourth carbon budget that the policy gap “absolutely” needed to be filled immediately.

Responding to questioning by members of the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Committee in Parliament Dr. Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association was joined by other energy industry leaders including Lawrence Slade, CEO of Energy UK and Philip Sellwood, CEO of the Energy Saving Trust.

When asked by Committee member Julian Sturdy MP asked the panel in regards to meeting our 4th Carbon Budget commitments “How quickly does this policy gap need to be filled? You’re saying immediately really, we’re not talking about the end of this parliament, we’re talking about now?” Dr. Skorupska responded “absolutely.”

The Committee heard that the government has introduced thirteen detrimental energy policy changes that have restricted the growth of renewables in the UK, including the loss of Zero Carbon Homes and that far greater coordination was additionally required between government departments in order to meet our legal heat and transport targets.

When asked about the fifth carbon budget Dr. Skorupska argued that the Committee on Climate Change needed to re-evaluate energy storage as they “missed out on how fast this was moving.”

Following the evidence session, James Court, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the REA said: “The country faces declining electricity supplies and is lagging behind in its urgent decarbonisation goals. All the while, since the election the government has been making it more difficult to deploy renewables such as solar, biomass, and biogas which can be deployed cheaply and quickly.

The Committee on Climate Change holds an important role in forming energy policy and could clearly tell the government: renewables are critical for security, for decarbonisation, and should be supported now.”

As well as commissioning new renewable installations electricity could be used in a more intelligent way, saving up to £8 billion per year, according to government experts.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has stated that the UK needs to store much more energy from intermittent renewable like wind and solar with fridges, freezers and washing machines all playing a part.

The NIC claim that this could be the initial move towards an “Internet of Energy” with appliances such as freezers linked via the web to the grid. During periods of peak demand a server at the consumer’s energy firm could contact their smart freezer to request it powers down for a set period to allow other nearby consumers use the energy to cook for example.

The freezer being well insulated would remain cold without power for the set period so it would agree. The consumer would then be rewarded with a credit to their energy bill. When this is multiplied across thousands of users the effect is less energy will be required at peak times meaning fewer power stations are required to meet demand.

Likewise when there is low demand and an energy surplus the energy company server will contact web linked appliances to ask if they want to run on the current cheap power.

Marriott Hotels is already using a similar system to operate their air conditioning. During periods of high demand the system switches off the air conditioning however due to the amount of cold water already present it stays cools and guests are not aware it has been switched off.

The system is known as demand flexibility and the NIC stated that in order for it to work it must be supported by the government.

Public support for renewable energy in the UK has never dipped below 50% and can normally be found above 60%. Government appointed experts are claiming that renewable energy is critical for energy security and decarbonisation. Also other experts are planning innovative energy storage solutions to help balance out supply and demand.

Gather all these together, add in technology which is becoming less and less expensive and the case for placing renewable energy at the top of our energy mix has never been greater.

 

The changing face of renewables

Energy UK, the country’s largest energy lobbying group and representative of the big six energy providers has shifted its stance on energy production and has announced that it will start promoting green energy and low-carbon energy generation.

Lawrence Slade Energy UK’s chief executive stated the shift was required in order not to be left behind; “No one wants to be running the next Nokia, I want to drive change and move away from accepted (old-style) thinking.”

This announcement has been heralded as a major turnaround by environmental campaigners as previously the organisation has been accused of protecting the vested interests of the supply companies at the expense of the environment.

Energy UK now find themselves in uncharted territory as they officially support the government’s phasing out of coal-fired power stations whilst at the same time being publicly critical over the way the subsidies to wind and solar power were cut by the government.

They admit that the energy companies, along with the government, have made mistakes in the past but now want to create a plan that everyone, including consumers, will commit to.

“It would be quite a sensible thing to have an Energiewende (the German government’s strategy to move to a majority of renewable energy sources) but the emphasis would have to be on our own version and not a direct cut and paste,” he stated.

Energy UK is also calling for a new long term strategy regarding financing the energy sector with details on the levy control framework of subsidy levels published so investors can plan up to at least 2025. Also they are lobbying for onshore wind farms to be allowed access to new types of subsidy claiming that last year’s cuts have undermined investor confidence.

“Energy policy is not as yet coherent. It is becoming clearer but more needs to be done. Investment is there but not forthcoming because there is not black and white clarity. The abruptness of some of the cuts and the scale of some of the cuts have alarmed people.”

Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter and a campaigner for low-carbon energy generations welcomed the apparent U-turn by Slade’s organisation.

“Energy UK is the conventional industry lobby, and is generally at the conservative end of arguments. This [Pathways] report reads almost as if they have ‘flipped’ to the other side. I take this to mean that their members realise that their future is in the ‘new’ energy system rather than the ‘old’, and this is to be welcomed.”

Richard Black, the director of the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, also viewed Energy UK’s new stance as positive. “The report shows that experts across the industry see a time of tremendous change ahead for the electricity system, with the traditional utility model increasingly outdated.

“Falling demand, increasingly competitive renewables, storage, interconnectors, demand response – this is the blueprint for the electricity system just 15 years hence, and it’s telling that it comes from an industry body rather than a ‘green’ thinktank.”

One such component of our new energy strategy could be advanced hydro-pumped storage, but only if the government can guarantee a floor price for energy produced this way.

Scottish Power recently announced plans to double the potential output of its hydro-electric power station in order to help store renewable energy.

A feasibility study carried out on the Cruachan instillation showed its generating capacity could be increased by 400 – 600MW. Its current output capacity is 440MW. However with development costs of £400m the study also claims that without a guaranteed price on energy produced the expansion would not be feasible. The study also claimed that the upgrade would create 800 construction jobs.

The power station is located within Ben Cruachan and during low electricity demand periods, particularly at night, it uses low cost renewable energy to pump water 400m from Loch Awe up to a dam at the top of the mountain with the reservoir acting as a battery. The water is then sent down through a series of turbines during periods of high demand generating electricity.

Scottish Power’s generation director Hugh Finlay said “A new generation of pumped storage hydro would be a major asset for electricity systems worldwide as more renewable electricity continues to come online.

“As well as being able to further support peak demand, expanded pumped storage would also be able to effectively store greater levels of electricity at times when renewable energy output is high but demand is low.

“Pumped storage hydro is the most cost-effective and well-developed large-scale electricity storage technology in existence. We will now take forward our Cruachan findings with Government and regulators.”

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks welcomed the expansion plans saying: “Along with efforts to reduce electricity demand and strengthen interconnectors, increasing our hydro-pumped storage capacity would go a long way to helping deliver a fossil-fuel free power system.

“That is why the UK and Scottish governments need to work with industry to incentivise investment in pumped storage.”

As renewable energy generation levels continue to rise new storage options must be explored and utilised. We have renewable sources in this country that are the envy of the world yet without reliable storage options the vast majority of it will go to waste.

Hydro-pumped storage is one such technology which could provide a tangible solution to this issue however as noted above, the cost of developing such an installation is at this point, not commercially viable.

Therefore if the government are serious about reducing our carbon emissions then a long term strategy to make this technology viable will go a long way in helping them achieve this goal. Not that they should they commit to this alone, there are a number of potential solutions that could be viable but with hydro-pumped storage being the most cost-effective and well-developed it is where their focus should be at present.