Background to the 100% renewable energy in Scotland petition

We are asking you to sign the petition which has the following wording (in italics)

‘The Scottish Parliament should commit to a target of sourcing 100 per cent of all energy used in Scotland (not just electricity) from renewable energy by 2045 or earlier to complement the established legal goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland by 2045. This would be assumed to be achieved when a) the annual Scottish renewable energy production is a least as much as total annual Scottish energy consumption and b) all non electricity consumption in Scotland is sourced from renewable energy.’ This is necessary because:

a) otherwise plans may be made for new nuclear and or fossil fuel carbon capture and storage (ccs) plants which will either not materialise or which will divert resources away from much more sustainable renewable energy such as offshore wind, onshore wind, solar pv, geothermal energy, tidal, wave power or small hydro. Scotland has easily enough renewable energy potential to supply the nations’ needs and export much renewable energy elsewhere.
b) the energy system needs to be decentralised rather than centralised as the case now. A decentralised system involving the integration of supply and demand through digitalised technologies fits well with renewable energy and storage systems and avoids the duplication and inflexibility of fossil fuel and nuclear systems.

Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland said, in support of the petition: ‘It may be just a small step, but signing this petition will send a signal that we need a genuine green energy future based on renewables rather than some failing polluting system cooked up by multinationals interested in preserving their fossil fuel or nuclear businesses under a green facade’.

Actions by the Scottish Parliament

The petition calls upon the Scottish Parliament to commit to a target of sourcing 100 per cent of all energy used in Scotland (not just electricity) from renewable energy by 2045, or earlier. This will complement the established legal goal (of the Scottish Parliament) of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland by 2045. This would be assumed to be achieved when a) the annual Scottish renewable energy production is a least as much as total annual Scottish energy consumption and b) all non electricity consumption in Scotland is sourced from renewable energy.

A bill needs to be presented to the Scottish Parliament that will amend, or supplement,  the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 to incorporate the 100 per cent renewable energy target.

Following that the Scottish Government should establish a commission, aided by a Citizens Assembly discussion, to map out how the 100 per cent renewable energy target will be achieved. The pursuit of this target will present some new advantages. In particular the development of a decentralised system will not be held back by having to rely on having to incorporate unwieldy centralised fossil and nuclear systems, and there can be a clearer focus on how energy demand and buildings systems can be steered towards a net greenhouse zero outcome by 2045.

Public acceptance is likely to be higher than systems involving either fossil fuel systems with carbon and capture or nuclear power (which is much more expensive anyway compared to renewable energy). For example, there may be limited public support for more and different pipelines and gas supply infrastructure necessary for so-called ‘blue hydrogen requiring carbon dioxide removal.

Scotland has much more than enough renewable energy potential

Scotland can easily generate much more than is needed to supply all energy from renewable energy. Using figures from the Committee on Climate Change Scotland will need around 120 TWh of energy produced per year to meet Scotland’s energy needs in an energy efficient scenario. If we include the offshore windfarms which are installed or for which there are already firm plans, as well as existing onshore wind and solar, there will be at least 120TWh being generated from renewable energy in Scotland by 2030.

In fact much more than this can be produced from onshore and offshore windfarms and other renewable energy sources including solar, tidal and wave. By developing Scotland’s offshore windfarm potential Scotland will be able to export a great deal of renewable energy to England and across interconnectors to the European continent. This is apparent from reports such as that published by the International Energy Agency on offshore wind.

But fossil fuel use in buildings, industry and transport needs to be replaced by renewable energy to achieve a real 100 per cent renewable energy target – a Scottish 100 per cent renewable energy target cannot be achieved merely by exporting electricity since this could still leave much Scottish energy consumption supplied by fossil fuels. This also means that Scotland will need to use the most energy efficient socially just means to achieve this – including the most energy efficient buildings using heat pumps, or storage heaters in buildings where heat pumps are unsutiable.

Heat pumps use renewable energy much more efficiently than other systems. It is a versatile technology that can be used to serve individual housing units or district heating systems using large scale heat pumps. Cycling needs to be given the biggest priority in urban planning and sales of new all fossil fuel powered motor vehicles need to be banned by 2030 at the latest.

This is all economically possible if we are to invest in a green deal future for economic revival and ensure that Scotland’s energy needs are met by renewable energy sources which are much cheaper than costly and radioactive nuclear power.

We must deploy new balancing techniques

So far the National Grid has relied on conventional means to balance the grid, mainly using gas power stations, although more batteries and demand side measures are being deployed. These need to be stepped up. In addition programmes to develop and install techniques for long term storage of renewable energy need to be launched so that we can make the electricity grid more responsive to variable renewable energy supply. These include technologies such as ammonia, liquefied air, ‘flow’ batteries‘water balloon’ storage next to offshore windfarms and various other potentially promising techniques.

The need for peak power plant needs to be reduced through deployment of decentralised balancing techniques such as storage embedded in buildings (associated with solar pv systems and industrial storage systems) and so-called ‘vehicle to grid’ (V2G) schemes. Under V2G electric car batteries are used to store and supply electricity to the grid to even out the peak demand for electricity. The Government or energy consumers will not have to pay for the installation of these systems since the right incentive structures will encourage private companies to install these systems or, in the case of electric vehicles, to use a growing new resource that is mandated by other policy initiatives.

The Commonweal Energy Group have mapped out some practical steps that Scottish authorities and people can take in the short term.

Nuclear Power and fossil fuels

But these technologies undermine renewable energy. Time and money is wasted by spending it on nuclear power, and the nuclear power stations end up driving wind and solar power off the grid because in practice the nuclear power plant do not operate flexibly to balance renewable energy production. New nuclear power plant are proving extremely expensive and difficult to deliver. The history of nuclear power construction in the UK reveals that this is not a new problem, and we should not expect a dramatic reduction in costs and deliverability of nuclear power – all of this is in stark contrast to the falling costs and much quicker deliverability of renewable energy in Scotland. The decommissioning costs of nuclear power plant will have to be met by future generations.

Meanwhile plans by oil and gas interests to convert fossil fuels into ‘blue hydrogen’ will compete with efforts to develop markets for ‘green’ hydrogen derived from renewable energy. Not only that, but there are question marks about numerous issues surrounding blue hydrogen which have not been successfully addressed. Decarbonisation of natural gas is only partly successful in practice, much methane will still leak from the system, and a sustainable system of carbon storage still needs to be worked out. By comparison the technology of heating through heat pumps or storage heaters is well established, whilst the technology of supplying hydrogen through the gas network is not fully established, and for a long time hydrogen would be supplied as a small proportion of total gas supplies.

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