Claire Mack: Europe’s windiest country is set to reap the economic benefits

Sunset over Blacklaw windfarm. (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
Sunset over Blacklaw windfarm. (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
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Scotland is the windiest country in Europe. That’s a fact which gives us an unassailable edge in tackling one of the world’s most important challenges: climate change.

While doing so is a moral obligation, Scotland’s abundant renewable energy resources mean it’s an obligation which is already delivering significant economic and social benefits north of the border.

Onshore wind power is the most recognisable face of our renewable energy industry, and it’s one which is already providing almost a quarter of the electricity used by our homes and businesses.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show 7,500 people are employed because of this one technology alone in Scotland, while onshore wind developers invested more than £440 million in the country in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available. Most importantly, onshore wind is cheap and popular, with figures from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showing public support is at a record high. With the average UK thermal power station now more than 30 years old, replacements are urgently required.

Figures from the UK Government in November 2016 showed new onshore wind projects would be cheaper than new gas plants, and almost a third cheaper than the price agreed for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. That means using a mix of renewable technologies, including onshore wind and solar power, is the cheapest way of modernising our energy system.

A recent Cost of Energy Review commissioned by the UK Government recognised the rapidly falling cost of renewables, but the UK’s onshore wind industry hasn’t enjoyed plain sailing of late.

A Conservative manifesto commitment made ahead of the 2015 General Election meant new onshore wind and large-scale solar developments were locked out of the energy market. They’re the only technologies from any energy sector which aren’t eligible to compete for long-term contracts for power. Instead, more expensive technologies have taken their place.

Progress on preventing a hiatus in onshore wind development has been hard-won. The industry is striving to adapt to these new market conditions, and despite the many challenges, optimism within the onshore wind sector in Scotland continues.

Analysis by Baringa Partners this year found that the UK Government could deliver one gigawatt of new onshore wind capacity – enough to meet the equivalent annual demand of 600,000 homes – at no additional cost to consumers over and above the long-term wholesale price of power.

Changes to the way we generate, transmit and consume electricity mean the shift to a renewably powered future is happening quickly – and is more sustainable than ever. Rather than requiring fossil fuel plants to step in when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, our new energy system will use storage and smart technologies to flex supply and demand to fit the generation profile of clean energy plants.

In a time of suggested energy bill caps, there are increasingly compelling arguments to be made in favour of onshore wind. It’s part of a suite of renewable technologies and electricity network changes which can cut the carbon emissions from our power system while simultaneously delivering jobs and investment to Scotland.

Claire Mack is chief executive of Scottish Renewables