Green Interlude 1 – ‘Green Scotland & Black England’?

Occasionally, I do a little work for ‘pin money’ by translating papers in a Chinese scientific journal to English.  Well, let’s be clear – the text is not IN Chinese…but it has been through something like Clive Sinclair’s ZX81 forerunner of Google Translate…so noone can really say it is in ‘English’, either. With glorious optimism, the work is euphemistically referred to as ‘English polishing’ by the editorial board – unfortunately, these shoes have no soles, so considerably more than polishing is required. Anyway, recently a review paper came across my desk dealing with China’s oil and gas resources – a thorough survey of everything in each of China’s basin…with the emphasis entirely on ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Yes, that’s right…’fracking’.This academic work is entirely uncritical of the processes involved, seeing the environment only as an unfortunate ‘obstacle’ rather than a priority for protection. I could weep: they see this promised land, and they are going to wring every last drop out of it, in order to ‘catch up’ to the west. They run so fast, that they don’t realise that the rest of us are already moving on from this…

It is fair to admit that, as much as the unconventional sources are causing a lot of ‘backsliding’’ from countries who were becoming greener because their conventional oil and gas resources were depleting, the US and China committed last November to cutting their carbon emissions, but the world’s number 3, India, has not, instead wanting to expand clean energy and using other ‘strategies’ such as switching off street lights on nights with a full moon. In other words, not taking it particularly seriously – which is understandable, as they see no reason why they should be penalized for coming late to the hydrocarbon party, and not have reaped the benefits before people started talking about emissions limits and moratoria.

Scotland is regularly touted as a world-leader in its clean renewable energy adoption programme, and its carbon emission ambitions. So let’s look at the success stories first of all.

Scotland has renewable energy targets of 50% of its production by 2015, and 100% by 2020. In 2013, fossil fuels and renewables each provided 32% of generated electricity (44.4% of energy consumption), with the first 3 quarters of 2014 showing an increase of a further fifth in renewable energy production. For the second half of last year, renewables in Scotland were the single largest energy source, and by February of this year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change was able to report that Scotland had almost met its target a year early, with renewables responsible for 49.6% of electricity consumption by the end of 2014. From 2013-2014, Scotland’s renewables-generated electricity had increased by 11.7%, providing 19 TerraWattHours, in effect an additional 430,000 Scottish households compared with 2013. Hydropower was up 26% to 5.5 TWH, wind power up 4% to 11.6 TWH. Comparing this to nuclear-derived energy, for example, shows that from January to June last year, renewable sources produced 10.3 TWH, while nuclear produced 7.8 TWH. These are important comparisons, with both Scotland’s nuclear power stations coming to the end of their working lives and pressure from the UK Government to build more, with one radiation leak being detected at 27 year old Torness in East Lothian last month, and another at Dounreay in November.

The forecasts for renewables are positive, too: in addition to 100% of electricity by 2020, renewables are anticipated to provide 11% of heat energy. A new independent report by energy and engineering consultancy DNV GL for WWF Scotland has confirmed that in 15 years Scotland can be entirely relying on renewables AND remain a net power/energy exporter. This would means that it is possible to cut carbon entirely or ‘decarbonise’ our power supply, with absolutely no need for coal, gas or nuclear to ensure security of supply.

Much of this is due to Scotland’s quite exceptional energy opportunities, in a post-oil world: we have 10% of Europe’s wave potential, 25% of Europe’s tidal power potential, 25% of its offshore wind resource. Wave Energy Scotland has just been awarded 14 million from the Scottish Government for the next 13 months, to develop that wave potential further. And, as a world leader, Scotland is exporting that knowledge: the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney has now established formal links with the Nagasaki Prefecture, to lead the development of wave and tidal power in Japan, at a time when their environment minister is predicting a tripling of electricity generation from renewables across their country by 2030.

There is even positive news for the perhaps counter-intuitive solar power market, with capacity increasing by 32% to 140MW during 2014 (69 times the capacity in 2010), with over 35,000 homes (5% of the 600,000 homes across the UK) and 600 business premises having fitted solar photovoltaic arrays. 126MW of that capacity is on homes alone: a typical home will save 1 tonne of carbon dioxide a year, andthirty throughout the lifespan of the installation. With improved production, solar power is projected to be competitive without subsidies in the UK by 2020.

In March 2015, Scottish wind energy output was up 16% on last year, enough to more than power (110%) every home in Scotland, or 57% of Scotland’s entire energy demand across homes, business and industry. A lot of the progress in expansion in renewables capacity has been through community renewables projects. The current target for community renewable projects is 500MW by 2020, and that is already on target to be beaten, with 285MW in place, and a further 679MW approved. This has led to Friends of the Earth Scotland to request that the Scottish Government target is increased to 2000MW.

At the start of March, a report by RenewableUK called for revisions on charges to feed-in tariffs for those investing in small to medium wind turbines: across the UK, 2013 electricity generation increased to over 391GWh in 2014, with the capacity having more than doubled to 248MW from the previous year, with 2014’s revenue exceeding 174 million. The study also found that homes with solar panels were the most efficient, with 75% of electricity needs being generated by the panels, the average house generating enough energy for 85% of its hot water needs.

The benefits of these programmes lie not only in expansion of capacity, security of supply and community benefits, but also in giving people a sense of ownership, as part of a change management strategy. Windpower turbines tend to be one of the strongest sources of Nimby-ism (‘of course they are a good thing, just Not In My Back Yard’) in the 21st century, as they are undeniably intrusive on any landscape. However, support among Scots for the continued development of windpower turbines shows signs of rising, perhaps with a recognition that we have little choice if we are going to become carbon-free: a YouGov survey in March showed 71% of Scots wanted continued development of windpower, where support had only been 64% two years earlier, and onshore wind capacity had risen by 20% over that time period. The survey also showed that 79% of Scots want the next UK government to support renewables, with two thirds wanting them to tackle climate change (only 14% opposed), and to implement policies to reduce emissions. In contrast, only 26% support ‘fracking’, and only 45% support new nuclear power stations. In contrast, in February, a DECC survey showed that across the UK 68% (v 10% against) support for onshore wind farms, with 74% support for offshore wind farms, 74% tidal energy, and support for ‘fracking’ dropping from 26% in their previous survey to 24%.

We can look at the issue of ‘fracking’ with a number of other recent polls: in early October, a YouGov poll showed 46% Scots opposed to ‘fracking’, 36% in favour. A USURV online poll released at the end of January showed that 15% Scots thought ‘fracking’ should go ahead, with 54% against it, and 8% NIMBY (yes, just Not In My Back Yard). The same survey, across the UK, showed 25% in favour of ‘fracking’, 40% against ‘fracking’, and 11% NIMBY. Some of those are ‘margin of error’ differences, but perhaps the green agenda is making people in Scotland think more…or perhaps they simply do not care too much about where they get their energy from. Arguably, it leads to a more green-aware population, with a recent survey showing that people in Scotland were more ‘enlightened’ about energy, with 65% of Scots knowing about Smartmeters and interested in having them, compared to the UK average figure of 59%.

This is, of course, all overtly political: under the SNP’s stewardship, the Scottish Government has broken the mould of the Scottish Executive as a ‘mini-me’ of Westminster, and has pursued challenging and divergent policies, in an attempt to demonstrate to Scots that not only is there an alternative to Westminster’s way, but that also Scotland has the talent and political skills to deliver its own agenda. In short, to prove that Scotland can govern itself, and govern itself well, before it actually becomes independent. As Labour’s Lord George Foulkes shrewdly observed – without a trace of irony or self-awareness – to the BBC’s Colin Mackay during a famous interview on 25th February 2008: “The SNP are on a very dangerous tack at the moment. What they are doing is trying to build up a situation in Scotland where the services are manifestly better than south of the Border in a number of areas.”  “Is that a bad thing?” “No. But they’re doing it deliberately …. “

This has meant that – simply by being different – they have laid themselves open to criticism by those who favour Holyrood returning to Billy Connolly’s ‘mini-me’ ‘wee pretendy parliament’, with suggestions particularly from Conservative politicians that they have adopted an overzealous embracing of renewables with a suspicion of nuclear energy – allegedly, a ‘bad combination’. It is, however, worthwhile noting that, of course, the Coalition Government is now wedded to nuclear energy (at guaranteed exceptionally high tariffs), through France’s state energy provider getting the private contract to build more nuclear power stations in England – which the construction of can at least be blocked by the Scottish Government – for now.

This divergent energy policy means that the UK Government give little evidence of commitment to meeting any renewable energy targets – while Scotland is on the cusp of meeting 50%, the UK as a whole has only reached 14%. And – remembering that Scotland is providing around a third of that, England is probably still only in single figures for its renewables. [This observation led to a Danish reader of this blog to suggest the title for this posting – my thanks, Ella…]

But as much as it would be satisfying to be able to portray Scotland as ‘Green and Responsible’ next to the rest of the UK, or even the World in general (‘whau’s like us? Gie few, an they’re aw deid!’), with respect to renewable energy sources, that is neither the whole story, nor enough. Emissions is the other side of green energy responsibility, and there we do not do nearly so well.

As Mary Church (Friends of the Earth Scotland) noted after the Lima UN climate change conference in December 2014, five years on, the Scotland Climate Change Act (2009) “remains the most ambitious domestic legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialised world. In the context of the totally inadequate pledges on the table in Lima, it is more important than ever that Scotland starts to live up to its leadership role by putting in place further serious, practical measures to curb emissions.” And what targets have been set? Scotland is aiming for 42% carbon emissions reduction (relative to 1990 levels) by 2020, with 80% the target by 2050. At first, progress was promising: from 1990-2010, Scotland’s net reduction of 19% exceeded the UK’s 15%; between 1990 and 2012, Scotland outperformed not just the UK, but even the European average for emissions reductions. From 1998-2012, despite a 5% increase in population, Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6.3%. Unfortunately, last year saw a 5% rise in those emissions, thought to be related to increased consumer confidence as the quantity of imported goods rose. This interpretation is supported by it being a mirror of the dramatic fall in emissions in 2007 as people restricted their spending with the start of the economic crisis.

The first three easy climate change targets (reductions against 1990 increasing from 20%, to 28% to 30%) have been missed by the Scottish Government, and the 4th (the 32% target) is expected to fail this year. So, what went wrong? In February 2010, the Committee on Climate Change advised: “Our conclusion is that the 42% target is achievable through domestic effort in a context where there is a new global deal to reduce emissions which triggers the EU’s target to reduce emissions by 30% in 2020 relative to 1990. However, new policies will be required if the emissions reduction potential that we have identified is to be unlocked in practice.” And therein lies the clue: as Lang Banks, Director of the World Wildlife Fund Scotland noted, although we have been a nation of climate leadership since the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen, “In the case of Scotland, with our three missed climate targets, [we have to put] at least the same amount of effort into reducing emissions from transport, housing and other sectors as is successfully being put in to harnessing clean energy from renewables.” And passing such policies is usually far from easy – but the Scottish Government is managing to make some small progress. When asked at the Cabinet sub-committee on Climate Change chaired by Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, about the new 20mph speed limit being rolled out within Edinburgh (which will supposedly address emissions), Banks noted again that Scotland needed to do more about emissions from transport (which are still close to 1990 levels) and energy, but added that “Scotland is trying to do something good that, as far as we are aware, no one else is doing.” He has also called for policies on demand reduction, renewable heating options as well as home energy efficiency and energy storage.

In all this, it is easy to forget that Scotland does not have complete power to change these figures: for example, the Committee on Climate Change noted that Scotland’s ambitions exist within a global context, where aviation and shipping carbon emissions were increasing by around 20% a year, thus Scotland would have to act to cut carbon emissions in the sectors that it DOES have control over, to a much greater extent, to compensate, if it is to get to 42% reduction on 1990’s figures. As Dr. Aileen Macleod, Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform, put it in January, “Another challenge is that Scottish emission levels also depend to a significant extent on policies at UK, EU and wider international levels and unfortunately our neighbours don’t have as high an ambition as Scotland.” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon does not find the position acceptable: “There is no point in setting targets if your determination is not to meet them.”

There is also a ‘transportation of credits’ issue: many wealthy countries that have lost their heavy industries are still importing the products of those industries from abroad, which means the costs of production do not show up on their carbon footprint, even though they are the end-consumers responsible. There are strong arguments for this to be corrected, by factoring in such ‘consumption-based emissions’. Similarly, the Scottish Government has been criticised for being slow to engage with Refuse-derived Fuel, which it currently exports to Germany and Sweden, helping them meet their renewables targets (much as Scotland’s green energy disproportionately supports the UK’s targets), as Scotland does not have the capacity to deal with it domestically.

And – looming large in the background of all of this – is Scotland’s fossil fuel heritage, both oil and coal, and managing that overall energy mixture to remove carbon-sources from it as swiftly and efficiently as possible. But that, I think, is for another time…


“It’s simply not enough to set climate targets without taking the action needed to meet them. It’s not enough to make climate justice speeches without following through and reducing our consumption emissions. And it’s not enough to expand renewable energy without showing determination to take fossil fuels out of the mix.” (Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party, 20/3/2015)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s