Renewable energy enjoys a 'significant comparative advantage' in Scotland

One additional gigawatt of onshore or offshore wind energy capacity could reduce Scotland's current total carbon emissions by 3%, and grid infrastructure will be a fundamental influence on Scotland's ability to accommodate growth in renewable energies, according to Scotland's Generation Advantage.

The report examines the scope, benefits and attractiveness of various low-carbon and renewable generation technologies available and identifies which are likely to benefit from a comparative advantage so that technologies which will be vital to the achievement of energy policy imperatives can be highlighted.

“This report demonstrates that Scotland's energy advantage lies in securing low carbon electricity from renewables and clean fossil fuels,” says energy minister Jim Mather. “We enjoy a vast array of potentially cheap, renewable energy sources, and harnessing that potential will create thousands of long-term jobs while reducing emissions.”

“The study shows the impact that renewables can have in reducing emissions and shows that carbon capture could have huge, positive impact for Scotland when it is fully operational,” he adds. “Scotland is taking a global lead on the fight against climate change and we are working hard with our partners in the UK and across Europe to become an international leader in alternative energy technologies and develop new economic opportunities for Scotland.” The Scottish Government commissioned the low carbon and renewable energy report from Wood Mackenzie in July 2009.

For decades, Scotland has relied on fossil fuels and nuclear to generate its electricity, but generators and the government have demonstrated “an appetite for an expansion of renewable energy” that is prompted by long-term climate / energy targets, and the development of green power is expected to accelerate over the coming decade, it explains. Such progress will largely be supported by growth of onshore and offshore wind generation.

The key renewable generation technologies identified for Scotland include wind, hydro, bioenergy and marine, but “a far larger prize for the country is how its comparative advantage of low carbon energy opportunities could be utilised in a EU-wide context,” the report notes.

Barriers to renewable energy include grid infrastructure expansion; reduction or removal of barriers to grid access; re-structuring grid charging mechanisms to promote development of low-carbon sources of electricity which are often remote; and work on carbon capture and storage.

“Significant effort and expenditure would be required to fully realise this comparative advantage,” but the investment could be repaid through the provision of a marketable premium low-carbon electricity to the UK and EU, “bringing wider economic and environmental benefits to Scotland.”

Each installed megawatt of new wind energy capacity could remove between 1.2 and 1.3 kt of CO2 per annum from overall UK emissions and, at this level of abatement, each gigawatt of additional installed wind turbines could reduce emissions equivalent to 3% of Scotland’s current total carbon emissions.

Scotland has potential to develop 11.5 GW of onshore wind and 25 GW of onshore, as well as 14 GW of wave, 7.5 GW of tidal, 660 MW of hydro and 450 MW of biomass, it quantifies.

“These attractive technologies do not currently provide the cheapest source of power and, therefore, suitable incentive mechanisms are essential to encourage investors to build new plant,” it concludes. Conventional hydro and onshore wind are the most mature renewable sources, while marine and carbon capture are at the other end of the spectrum and still require considerable research and development.

“It is Wood Mackenzie’s view that Scotland is well placed to meet and potentially exceed its key energy targets, particularly those relating to renewable energy supply in the period to 2020, although others (including longer-term objectives) remain less certain,” it explains. “Scotland does offer comparative advantage to a number of technologies, although much work will be required to fully realise such opportunities.”