Statistics published last week by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change show that 57.7% of electricity consumed in Scotland in 2015 was generated by renewable sources, 7.7% above the government set 50% target.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister welcomed the figures and promised his party would go further if re-elected in May. “The SNP have long championed green energy and these new figures show the huge progress we have made – but we are determined to go even further,” he said.
“As we set out in Parliament earlier this month, the SNP is developing an ambitious and long-term Scottish energy strategy which, if re-elected, we will implement over the next parliament and beyond. The strategy will aim to make electricity cleaner, affordable and more secure for all consumers.”
Mr. Swinney also pointed out that the SNP’s commitment to renewable energy generation was in direct contrast to that of the UK government citing their decision to end subsidies for onshore wind and solar installations early.
“Growth in renewable energy is one of the reasons Scotland is seen as an international leader in taking action to tackle climate change – alongside our world leading targets to reduce our carbon emissions,” he added.
“Scotland has continually led on climate change – setting a good international example as well as taking significant action at home, as today’s renewable energy statistics show.”
Speaking of the record breaking year Lang Banks director of WWF Scotland said “It’s fantastic news to learn that Scotland has continued to grow its use of renewables and now generates well over half of its annual electricity needs from clean energy sources.
“Ahead of May’s elections we need all political parties to continue to prioritise renewables and commit to ensuring Scotland secures the benefits of becoming the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.
“Independent research has shown that it is possible for Scotland to have a secure, efficient electricity system, based on almost entirely renewable electricity generation, by 2030. Embracing that vision would maximise the opportunities to create new jobs, empower communities and support local economic renewal throughout the country.”
Friends of the Earth director Dr. Richard Dixon said “This is great news and an important step in creating a fossil-free Scotland.
“Despite the UK Government’s ideological assault on renewable energy, Scotland is storming ahead, smashing through our 50% target for 2015. Well done to all those in this vital industry who have helped produce a big increase from the 2014 figures.”
Scottish Renewables Director of Policy said “This is another important milestone for our industry and shows renewables are now a mainstream part of our power sector.
“There is still a huge amount of potential for future growth, if the industry is given the right backing by government.”
“Despite having enough projects in the pipeline, recent changes to government support, and hold ups in the consenting process for offshore wind farms, have set us on a path to fall short of the 2020 target.”
For the UK on a whole, renewable generation increased by 29% to a record 83.3TWh in 2015. Onshore wind generation was up 24% from the previous year, offshore wind 30%, solar – a remarkable 86%, and bio-energy 28%. Increases have been attributed to higher wind speeds and increased capacity. The UK added 1.008GW of new capacity in 2015, approximately 50% down on 2014.
Maf Smith, deputy chief executive at RenewableUK said “Putting the consumer first means putting renewables first. As old coal turns off, renewables is quietly taking its place, delivering energy security and value for money. It makes more sense than ever to fully support and take advantage of our natural resources.”
A beneficial effect of the increase of renewable energy generation is that the UK’s annual carbon emissions fell by 4% in 2015. Coal fired power stations are now burning at their lowest levels in 150 years.
Coal consumption fell by 22% in 2015 compared to 2015 as a number of coal power stations were closed and decommissioned in 2015, a trend which has continued in 2016 with four more stations closing in March. In some quarters this has led to concerns about our long term energy security and potential black-outs. However a number of experts have rubbished such claims as long as we produce a clear energy policy.
“We have seen at least five years of “lights out” headlines, so far without so much as a flicker caused by insufficient capacity,” said Prof Michael Grubb, at University College London. “Despite tight margins, extreme weather is far more likely to cause any household disconnections than insufficient generating capacity.”
“Closure of these coal plants is both expected and necessary,” said Jonathan Gaventa, director of thinktank E3G. “The UK has plenty of options to cover the loss of coal-fired power through energy efficiency, renewables, interconnection with other countries and smart demand. This combination can deliver low-cost electricity reliably and quickly.”
“If anything is to blame for tight margins, it’s previous governments’ history of incoherent energy policy,” said Paul Massara, former CEO of energy company RWE npower. “Investors need long-term clarity on policy, and they simply have not been getting it.”
“Look outside the UK and it’s clear that the direction of travel in is only in one direction, towards primarily low-carbon, flexible, smart energy systems,” said Andrew Garrad, senior consultant at DNV GL energy. “It’s been accelerated by the Paris climate agreement, and Britain is by no means ahead of the pack in this transition.”
Despite our record breaking year for renewables it is clear we are now falling behind. The UK renewables industry is grinding to a halt and new technologies such as smart grids, heat pumps and energy storage are not being implemented fast enough.
As the decline in new renewable energy installations continues then these records will stop being broken and without an adequate substitute carbon emissions will at best level out.
There will be small victories, such as a heat pump system for a new development, and as long as there are businesses and innovators brave enough to take a chance these will continue but in order to succeed overall we need everyone, especially the government, to focus on achieving more power from renewable generation, lower carbon emissions and a clean secure energy future for everyone.