A renewed vision for Scotland

Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicol Stephen argues that renewable energy sources have a central role to play in fighting climate change.

We all know that climate change is a clear danger. We can see the ice caps melting live before our eyes through web cams. We can watch mainstream TV programmes bringing the issue into every home.

The global challenge now is to make the progress we should have done when oil cost $10 a barrel, before that cost hits $100. Who would dare predict what the price will be in 10 or 20 years time?

The challenge for Scotland is no less important. We have the opportunity to do great things. We have the capacity to supply 25 per cent of Europe‘s wind energy and 25 per cent of its tidal energy. We have the potential, the world-class universities and research, and the skills and technology from the oil and gas industries, which can directly transfer to wind and tidal energy generation.

My job — and the challenge for all of us — is to ensure that we lay down the energy infrastructure for the 21st century, in the same way that those in the 19th century created the industrial and transport infrastructure they needed — and we still use.

The future doesn’t have to be all about the ‘whispering giants’ – the centralised power stations, whether nuclear, coal, oil or gas. We can create a different future — a renewables future; a mix of wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass and micro-renewables.

Part of this future will be investment in a new power grid using smarter technology — for example, Flextricity is leading the way in Scotland [with a system matching large energy users’ demands with supply provided by different energy generators, including more intermittent renewable sources].

But energy means more than just electricity; transport and heating take up their share of demand as well. In future we need to harness everything that hydrogen can achieve for us.

So what does a clean energy strategy look like? We have set a target for 40 per cent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, and have already hit 16 per cent. Scottish ministers have made it clear we don’t see 40 per cent as a cap, and we want the UK to catch up.

We have published a climate change strategy, which for the first time establishes a separate Scottish contribution to UK targets. We have also created the Forum for Renewable Energy in Scotland, a mix of government, industry, academic and financial clout that is uniquely placed to drive the agenda. We are already taking forward its marine and biomass recommendations.

Government has responsibility for planning policy. We are taking seriously the need for dramatic change to make renewables a reality, and have published planning advice to make it easier for householders to install wind turbines, solar and micro-generators.

We will soon change planning guidance to make it easier for communities to insist on renewables as part of new developments.

As well as land use, the Electricity Act is another important part of planning. Scotland has had some success. We have consented to 1,500MW of wind generation since 2003. There are 41 applications in the queue, with the potential to generate 4,700MW. I am determined to speed up the process of gaining consents.

I think it is part of my job to lobby at a UK level on the grid upgrades and sub-sea cables needed to boost Scottish renewable energy, and to campaign to change the transmission charge regime that limits us.

This regime, with its priority on reducing transmission losses, only makes proper sense if you are using up valuable, finite resources.

Wind and wave power are unlimited and free. There ought to be no problem in exporting renewable energy south from Scotland, when the alternative is to take coal from Chile, gas from the far side of Ukraine, or uranium from who knows where. I am determined to campaign strongly for sub-sea cables from our island groups to the south.

Nicol Stephen is Scotland‘s deputy first minister. This is an edited version of a speech to the All-Energy Conference held in Aberdeen last month