Deep de-carbonisation of Scottish energy

Alan Mortimer
Alan Mortimer

Alan Mortimer, Director of Innovation at Sgurr Energy, discusses Scotland’s renewable potential in this special guest blog, reproduced with kind permission of the Scottish Energy Association

There are few people who would argue against Scotland’s uniquely blessed position regarding natural resources of energy, from our long established access to oil and gas reserves in the North Sea and, more recently, West of Shetland, to our coal seams under the Central Belt, and of course an enviable super-abundance of renewable energy potential.

Scotland is rich across the whole spectrum of renewable energy resources including onshore wind, offshore wind, hydro, biomass, wave and tidal and even solar.

It is not surprising that successive governments, of all colours, have made strenuous efforts to align energy policy to meet the needs of the trilemma: security of supply; cost to the consumer; and the environment. Renewables ticks all of these boxes!

In 2015, we have entered a new phase for renewable energy and its practical application to decarbonise the Scottish energy mix. We have already achieved high penetration of renewables electricity, but future decarbonisation will have to come from increasing that penetration and pulling in other sectors: heat and transport. Much easier said than done, but it’s where our focus must now shift if we are to continue our considerable progress.

So, what do we need to do to achieve this? In my view, “diversity” is the key word, in various contexts:

Diversity of renewable energy sources – Onshore wind is the lowest cost option for new renewable electricity. It is understandable, therefore, that the early focus has been largely concentrated on this technology. However, with a 65% share of renewables in 2015, the dominance of wind brings with it challenges in relation to its variability.

These challenges will limit the ultimate penetration of renewable electricity which can be achieved, and in my view, there is a compelling case that a broad diversity of renewables can achieve a much larger overall contribution, with less strain on backup/reserves/transmission than otherwise would be required, and lower overall cost to the consumer. Achieving this diversity should be a policy priority.

Diversity of backup and reserves – There is much talk in the sector about new forms of energy storage, in particular, batteries. However, until now, the lion’s share of investment is going to new transmission assets. While these assets are undoubtedly required as part of the solution, I question the case for all of our backup requirements coming via this route.

Indigenous storage, whether through batteries or, for example, new pumped storage schemes, offers a diversity and flexibility which cannot otherwise be achieved and must, in my view, offer a lower total cost solution in a renewables dominated system.

Diversity of energy vectors – The heat and transport sectors have lagged behind electricity, but are now desperately in need of stronger policy measures to promote decarbonisation. The challenge here is to develop the energy vectors which can shift energy from our low carbon electricity into heat and transport, and that will involve EV charging stations, hydrogen, heat networks, and much more.

We have a long way to go, but Scotland is well placed to be a world leader in decarbonisation of all energy (not just electricity), and if we can get this right, we will benefit from a global market estimated at some £3.3 billion.


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