Scotland needs innovation, competitiveness, engagement, certainty and swift action to maximise green energy boom

How can Scotland get the most out of the dash for renewables – for the people, the planet and the economy?

Reaping the maximum rewards from the green energy revolution requires innovation, competitiveness, engagement with communities and certainty, a conference has heard, and the north of Scotland has a key role to play.

Scotland has set a target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, five years ahead of the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

To reach this will involve a range of measures but renewable energy will play a key part.

We already have more than 13.4 gigawatts of renewable electricity generation capacity and ministers have set out an ambition to add at least another 20 gigawatts of onshore wind and 11 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

With this transition to a low-carbon society come “huge opportunities” for economic, societal and environmental improvements, according to speakers at The Scotsman’s annual Highlands and Island Green Energy Conference, held in Inverness last week.

Attendees heard from a range of experts on subjects including barriers to deployment of renewable projects, how developers can help tackle depopulation in the region, ways to create a skilled green workforce for the future and the importance of ensuring Scotland can keep its position as a world leader in the sector.

Drax has set out plans for a £500m expansion of its Cruachan power station in Argyll, nicknamed the Hollow Mountain for its ground-breaking pumped hydro storage systemDrax has set out plans for a £500m expansion of its Cruachan power station in Argyll, nicknamed the Hollow Mountain for its ground-breaking pumped hydro storage system
Drax has set out plans for a £500m expansion of its Cruachan power station in Argyll, nicknamed the Hollow Mountain for its ground-breaking pumped hydro storage system

Scottish minister for climate action Gillian Martin, Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner, Christianna Logan from network operator SSEN Transmission and Kateryna McKinnon from Crown Estate Scotland were among the headline speakers, with a range of panelists from a variety of organisations sharing insights learned from working in the field and answering questions from the audience.

There were a few common themes, including the need to better liaise with local communities when planning major infrastructure developments and big power schemes to get as many people as possible on board and ensure benefits are most effectively shared out.

Another was the importance of streamlining the consenting process, which would help secure investors and allow more renewables projects to be delivered faster as Scotland’s 2045 net zero deadline looms.

Lessons should also be learned from the North Sea oil and gas industry, which could have brought much greater rewards for Scotland, industry leaders said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Scotland's minister for climate action Gillian Martin was one of the key speakers at The Scotsman's Highlands and Islands Green Energy Conference, held in Inverness on June 5Scotland's minister for climate action Gillian Martin was one of the key speakers at The Scotsman's Highlands and Islands Green Energy Conference, held in Inverness on June 5
Scotland's minister for climate action Gillian Martin was one of the key speakers at The Scotsman's Highlands and Islands Green Energy Conference, held in Inverness on June 5

Rachel McEwan, from headline conference sponsor SSE Group – which is responsible for delivering a major electricity transmission network upgrade that will allow the coming increase in renewable power to feed into the grid – gave an engaging history lesson describing the transformational impact when hydro power was rolled out in the Highlands almost 100 years ago.

But that was not without opposition from local people, records show.

Scotland still has “world-class rain and wind”, she said, and this continues to have potential to power the nation and benefit the population.

Speakers at the conference discussed topics ranging from the barriers to expansion of renewable energy to the importance of engaging with communities and the need to seize the opportunities the sector presents for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland as a wholeSpeakers at the conference discussed topics ranging from the barriers to expansion of renewable energy to the importance of engaging with communities and the need to seize the opportunities the sector presents for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland as a whole
Speakers at the conference discussed topics ranging from the barriers to expansion of renewable energy to the importance of engaging with communities and the need to seize the opportunities the sector presents for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland as a whole

But the transition must be handled well, through engagement with local people.

She spoke of the need for “radical transparency” on plans for nationally important infrastructure such as the new high-voltage direct current cabling being installed across the Highlands.

“There is more engagement happening than ever before,” she said.

“But there is a truth: there are not always happy endings.”

She said projects must be carried out “in a way that is respectful and honest”.

Raymond Bremner, leader of Highland Council, welcomed the push for green energy and the “collective commitment” to making it happen.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said Scotland could look forward to a “brighter, sustainable and prosperous future powered by renewable energy”, with “phenomenal advancements” being seen across the Highlands and Islands – including in the Cromarty Firth area, where a new green freeport is expected to attract £1 billion in investment.

Malcolm MacLeod, assistant chief executive of Highland Council, said the region was experiencing unprecedented levels of activity in the renewables sector, from offshore and onshore wind to solar, pumped hydro and battery storage and grid reinforcement.

He stressed the importance of the public and private sectors “coming together” and “thinking outside the box” to get the current renewables drive right, highlighting the need to help some of the challenges facing communities at the same time as chasing climate targets.

“Housing, infrastructure, skills and training – that’s what people want to know about,” he said.

Community benefit – cash paid out to locals from renewables developments on their doorstep – was also discussed in a panel session, with suggestions including rejigging planning frameworks and creating a strategic fund to address a “lack of equity” in the way benefits are dished out.

Projects aimed at provision of affordable and sustainable housing, employment opportunities, support for projects “connecting people and places” and promoting shared-ownership schemes were among the ideas for boosting rural communities and “empowering local voices”.

Karel Drastich, from Associated British Ports – which is involved in the new Cromarty Firth venture – predicts floating offshore wind technology will be “the big one” for Scotland after slightly “missing the boat” on fully exploiting the opportunities with fixed-bottom turbines.

But investors would need the same kind of “certainty” they could find in North Sea petroleum, according to Stuart McAuley, project director of event sponsor West of Orkney Windfarm.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He says the country must be “proactive” in developing the necessary infrastructure to avoid missing out.

“It feels a little bit like the gold rush,” he said.

“But it’s not like that – it’s much more difficult.

“You have to compete for investment.

“What made oil and gas so successful? It was predictable.

“We need renewables to be predictable.”

He said the consenting process – which is long and complex – remains “a huge challenge” and is one of the major stumbling blocks.

Climate action minister Ms Martin outlined the Scottish Government’s commitment to decarbonisation and said there was “really no better place” than northern Scotland for green power.

The region is “already front and centre” in the energy revolution, she said, producing around a third of electricity generated onshore and attracting international investment.

And there is even greater potential in future.

The burgeoning offshore wind sector has the potential to be “transformational” for the region and the country, she said.

But developers and network operators must be “inventive” to ensure local people get behind big infrastructure upgrades and renewables developments and reap the maximum possible rewards.

She stressed the need for effective communication with people affected by changes.

“It’s so vital that developers engage with communities at the earliest stage,” she said.

“There is a collective responsibility.

“Community engagement should be mandatory.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She added: “And we need to be really inventive with what we do.

“We need to bring the people with us.

“They need to see the benefits.”

She also highlighted the urgent need for reform of the electricity market – reserved to the UK government – and how the right measures would boost support for renewables schemes and cut the cost of power for consumers.

Mr Bremner commended the success of the renewables industry in the north and the influx of investors coming forward to be part of the green revolution, but he stressed the need to keep up momentum.

“Time is of the essence,” he said.

“The Highlands is in a great position but we need to be ready to act swiftly or they will go elsewhere.”

Over the course of the conference, held in Inverness on June 5, there were sessions on responsible development; offshore wind, ports and infrastructure; challenges of balancing the grid in a net zero future; and people power, focusing on education, training and upskilling.

Panelists and speakers included representatives from event sponsors SSEN, Wave Energy Scotland, Vattenfall, Drax, SSE Renewables, West of Orkney Windfarm, Highland Council, Stratera Energy and Aurora Energy Services, as well as Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Port of Cromarty Firth, Aquatera, Associated British Ports, RI Cruden, Skills Development Scotland and Opergy Scotland.

To watch the full conference online, click here

Related topics:

Comments

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.