This warning was issued by Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes – co-leader of Aberdeenshire Council and vice-chairman of the North Sea Commission – at an international conference held yesterday in Edinburgh by the European North Sea Energy Alliance.
The North Sea Commission – set up in 1989 – includes local government members from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, England, France and Scotland. As well as Aberdeenshire, Highlands, Orkney and Shetland councils are also members.
The North Sea Commission – one of six geographical commissions under the CPMR (Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions) – aims to turn its sea basin into a major economic entity.
Cllr Kitts-Hayes added; “We are advocating for a complete North Sea strategy and for structured cross-border co-operation on energy.
“The European energy system is changing and developing and we support the prospective European Energy Union, which will enable Europe to rely far more on its own energy resources.
“A North Sea energy grid is essential for European energy union. As well as being a driver for economic growth, this could help deliver, green, renewable – and secure – power.
“We need closer co-operation between industry and government at all levels to overcome technical, legal and regulatory obstacles and the European energy union has to rise to these challenge.
“At the same time, consumers need to be well-informed about the benefits of European Energy Union and about how it save them money, help the environment and deliver security of supply”
A spokesman for the European North Sea Energy Alliance (ENSA) – which organised the two-day conference (which ends later today) – said: “While we look to meet the challenges of de-carbonising our energy systems, creating a secure supply and providing cost-effective energy working together across the North Sea has never been more important.
“For centuries, Scotland traded with other countries bordering the North Sea. That legacy lives on as we enter a new era of opportunity to trade low-carbon energy, technologies and expertise across the North Sea as we work to create an integrated European energy market.”
Dr. Stijn Billiet, policy adviser at the EU Commission’s Directorate on Maritime Affairs, added: “One of the biggest obstacles holding back development of ‘ocean power’ is the lack of grid connections.”
Eamon Ryan, a former Energy Minister in the Republic of Ireland, told the conference that ‘getting the political support right’ is an essential sine qua non to delivering greater-efficiency, lower-cost, distributed and renewable integrated electricity supply systems.
But he also warned: “At present, we do not have the public support we need for the size of the low-carbon revolution we need because of a number of factors, such as the recession, ‘green taxes’ and recent rise to prominence of a nascent shale energy industry.”
Ryan suggested that there could be a political leadership hole to be filled by Scotland in the run-up to (and possibly beyond) the UK-EU Independence Referendum vote being held by the UK government in May 2016.
From Aarlborg University, Danish professor Henrik Lund – author of ‘Renewable Energy Systems’ highlighted the bottleneck between de-carbonising energy production and de-carbonising domestic heating and mass transportation networks as a major obstacle to ‘not just smarter electricity grids but smarter electricity system integration’.
Closer to home Nick Gubbins, Chief Executive, Community Energy Scotland, commented: “We are very fortunate that here in Scotland we have a government which very much appreciates ‘community energy’
“We are trying to create a constellation of renewable community energy projects over Scotland to empower local communities but at present the UK energy grid is not designed to local energy generation.
“We have to first sell community-generated energy to the National Grid and then buy it back – more expensively – from them.