How Scotland can lead the world in the switch to green energy, with the Highlands and Islands playing a key role

As The Scotsman’s Highland’s and Islands Green Energy Conference was launched this week, Christianna Logan from electricity network operator SSEN Transmission highlighted the importance of renewables and the region to Scotland’s future

Our mission at SSEN Transmission is to deliver a Network for Net Zero. Sometimes people ask me what’s in it for Scotland.

This year, The Scotsman’s Highland and Islands Green Energy Conference, which SSEN Transmission is delighted to support, has some similar themes. It asks whether Scotland can emerge as a front-runner on the global stage in renewable energy, what role the Highlands and Islands region can play in this endeavour and what practical measures are necessary to ensure success.

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As the north of Scotland’s electricity network operator, we know that Scotland is already a world leader in renewable energy.

In March, I spoke on a panel at the European Offshore Wind Energy Conference, where energy companies from across Europe sought to learn from our experience in having delivered rapid expansion of offshore wind.

Later this year, more than 20 delegates from SSEN Transmission will attend the International Council on Large Electric Systems conference in Paris, where they will present cutting-edge work on operating power systems with high levels of renewables and offshore wind. Once again, the world looking to the experience of Scotland in this climate-critical transition.

Looking forward, we can maintain that position and deliver massive benefits to the Scottish Economy. By 2050 the north of Scotland is predicted to contribute more than 50GW of low-carbon energy to help deliver net zero. Today, the region has around 9GW of renewable generation connected to the network. ScotWind – the offshore wind projects awarded leases by Crown Estate Scotland in 2022 – is expected to contribute £28 billion to the Scottish economy.

Network expansions are essential to deliver the Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy and economic ambitions, strengthening home-grown energy security and delivering the transition to net zero, according to SSEN TransmissionNetwork expansions are essential to deliver the Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy and economic ambitions, strengthening home-grown energy security and delivering the transition to net zero, according to SSEN Transmission
Network expansions are essential to deliver the Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy and economic ambitions, strengthening home-grown energy security and delivering the transition to net zero, according to SSEN Transmission

The practical measures necessary to ensure success? A transformational expansion of Scotland’s electricity transmission network.

Network expansions are an essential requirement to deliver the Scottish Government’s ambitious renewable energy and economic ambitions, strengthening home-grown energy security and delivering our transition to net zero. The first stage of this is SSEN Transmission’s Pathway to 2030 investment plan.

This Pathway to 2030 investment plan represents a £20bn investment programme for the north of Scotland. We believe this once-in-a-generation opportunity is the single biggest investment in the region since the Second World War, if not of all time.

This investment will deliver significant and lasting economic benefits across Scotland. Socio-economic analysis of our Pathway to 2030 projects estimates around 9,000 indirect jobs will be supported in Scotland, with these projects also contributing £2.6bn to Scottish GVA.

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In SSEN Transmission alone, we have grown from around 400 employees in 2019 to over 2,000 today – with another 400 jobs to be recruited in this financial year.

Our Pathway to 2030 investments will also unlock investment in home-grown supply chains, and inward investment from companies setting up new manufacturing capability in the Highlands – such as the Sumitomo Electric investment in a new cable factory at Nigg. Shetland 2, a project in the next stage of SSEN Transmission’s investment plans, was an anchor project in securing this new factory, which will create more than 150 highly skilled jobs in the Scottish Highlands.

Proposals to introduce community benefit funding for electricity transmission infrastructure are set to deliver more than £100 million of community benefit funding for the north of Scotland too.

As we await the UK government’s final guidance, which we expect will be published this month, we will set out further details for our fund – including the launch of our initial £10m community benefit fund this summer.

We are also committed to delivering wider legacy benefits through the development of our projects, including our ambition to contribute to the development of more than 200 homes across the north of Scotland, a contribution to addressing Scotland’s rural housing crisis.

So, when people ask me, “This investment is all very well, but what’s in it for the north of Scotland?”, my response is this: at a time when rural depopulation is once again impacting our region due to lack of jobs, housing and investment, our projects are set to bring jobs, housing and community funding. And all that while increasing energy security, bringing down constraint costs on energy bills and delivering on the country’s net zero ambitions.

The most practical step that people across the north of Scotland can take to help the nation benefit from being a continued front-runner in renewable energy is to support the need for these Pathway to 2030 projects in Scotland and provide feedback to influence their design. Delays to these projects mean delays to the benefits to Scotland. Let’s work together to make sure that doesn’t happen.

- Christianna Logan is director of customers and stakeholders for SSEN Transmission

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