Derek McCulloch: Don’t let Brexit lead to disconnect from energy investment

Infrastructure is needed to exploit renewable power
Infrastructure is needed to exploit renewable power
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Last summer, the Scottish Government announced a package of £100 million for capital projects which would stimulate the Scottish ­economy amid fears that Brexit would cause an ­economic downturn.

To date, such fears have not come to pass. ­However, economic and political uncertainty continues and as a result the UK and Scottish Government have each ­committed to large ­infrastructure spending ­programmes, such as the recent announcements on high speed rail.

The truth is that – whatever the outcome of Brexit ­negotiations, a reignited independence campaign or global competition – infrastructure projects will be a necessary part of both ­governments’ economic ­policies over at least the next decade as each looks to invest in domestic growth and jobs to ensure stability.

Many sectors in Scotland and the UK could argue forcefully for a share of any investment. However, each government should strongly consider energy as a key area. Investing in our energy infrastructure is not only a good ­economic choice, but a ­necessary one if we are to meet climate change obligations, increase energy security, create jobs, green growth and increase international competitiveness.

Beyond current EU ­targets, Scotland is proposing a 50 per cent target of all heat transport and electricity energy needs to be met by renewables by 2030. It has the skills and vast renewable resources to make achieving these targets more than ­possible. While Brexit may not directly affect domestic policy on the need for targets, the methods of achieving them may need to change.

If targets are to be met they must be supported by ­modern infrastructure.

At the local level, investment could reduce ­barriers to grid connection faced by developers. The renewable energy sector is already attuned to low, no or ­alternative support mechanisms to encourage private investment in production. Reducing these costs could encourage more development and therefore more energy production.

At the national and international level, ­investment should be ­channelled towards removing ­constraints within the ­current and developed ­systems, particularly in remote areas and islands, towards local smart grids and interconnectors, the network of cables and pipelines which allow ­surplus energy to be exported to where it can be used.

Currently, the EU has set a target for member states to have electricity interconnections equivalent to 10 per cent of national generation capacity by 2020.

After Brexit, the commitment to this vital aspect of the energy supply will be all the more crucial.

If we do not ensure that we have the technology and skills to make us competitive in renewable energy, a real opportunity to be at the forefront of energy will be lost, as will all the economic advantages which come with that expertise. We should not ignore the importance of this infrastructure.

Derek McCulloch is head of energy at Gillespie Macandrew.