Conference report: Highlands and Islands is well-placed for success

Elain MacRae of Highlands and Islands Enterprise discusses the region’s green attributes

I am delighted that Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) was able to play a role in the successful delivery of The Scotsman’s Green Energy Conference.

Our chief executive, Stuart Black, provided the first keynote address in which he took delegates on a whistlestop tour of just some of the renewable energy related activity happening across the Highlands and Islands.

The breadth of technology across the area, from smallscale domestic installations up to multi-megawatt offshore windfarms, really highlights that there is no better place to be to harness nature’s power, grow a vital industry supporting jobs and communities, and make a significant contribution to Scotland’s net-zero targets.

The Scotsman's Highlands and Islands Green Energy Conference

There were two key themes recurrent throughout the course of the day – skills and collaboration. And while much of the conversation was centered around the challenges presented, it is clear that there is certainly no shortage of opportunity.

In the Highlands and Islands, we have a unique set of circumstances and resources that means we are strategically well-placed to capitalise for our region.

Delegates heard more than once that we have a genuine opportunity, through collaboration, to use the drive towards net-zero as a catalyst for transformation.

We should be aiming to improve the quality of our housing stock, lift communities out of fuel poverty and improve people’s quality of life, resulting in a place that is even more attractive in which to live, work, study, visit and invest.

This ambition is set out in HIE’s vision and is shared by Highland Council, and its new leader, Raymond Bremner, brought a tangible energy to his presentation.

Tackling these challenges will need skilled people – lots of them. There was huge emphasis throughout the day on how to develop these skills from grass roots through our primary and secondary schools up to degree level via the University of the Highlands and Islands and other academic partners.

It’s well recognised that our sector is growing more quickly than ever before and that to deliver on ambitious targets we need a multitude of talented people.

Businesses were encouraged to think about what they need to be successful, and it was great to see connections being made across industries and opportunities being explored among attendees.

There is no doubt that there is already a wealth of knowledge and expertise in green energy right across the Highlands and Islands, and our region has a starring role to play in the transition.

- Elain MacRae is Head of Energy Strategy with HIE