Scottish economy can be a green giant – but only if UK helps us out

Refineries like Grangemouth should be repurposed, says energy academic Stuart Haszeldene. Picture: Michael Gillen
Refineries like Grangemouth should be repurposed, says energy academic Stuart Haszeldene. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Scotland could have the greenest domestic heating, transport and industrial manufacturing in the world in a move that would consolidate the country’s bid to be a superpower for renewable energy generation.

Academics claim achieving the goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050 hinges on repurposing the country’s oil and gas infrastructure, developing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) network and converting the gas grid from methane natural gas to hydrogen.

Hydrogen emits no climate-warming carbon dioxide if produced using surplus renewable energy or alongside CCS, and can be used to heat homes as well as power vehicles.

CCS involves removing carbon dioxide emissions from “dirty” operations such as the petrochemicals processing and fossil-fuel power stations and permanently locking them away in depleted oil wells.

All this sounds like a massive undertaking, but scientists and engineers believe Scotland is uniquely positioned to make the vision a reality – and within the next two years.

But they insist action must be taken now, before decommissioning of depleted North Sea oil fields begins, or the opportunity will be lost.

The Scottish Government this week unveiled the country’s first energy strategy, which requires 50 per cent of all energy to come from low-carbon sources by 2030.

It also contains a pledge to continue supporting innovation in the oil and gas sector, including decommissioning and carbon capture and storage.

However, support from UK ministers is crucial.

“If Westminster is serious about being a UK government then it needs to act now and strengthen its recent Clean Growth Strategy, which supports CCS but lacks urgency or financial commitment,” said Stuart Haszeldine, professor of CCS at Edinburgh University and director of research partnership Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage.

“CCS is the best way of delivering low-cost, low-carbon heat to citizens with minimum disruption.”

Scotland has huge capacity for storing carbon dioxide in offshore rock formations, having 35 per cent of all potential sites in Europe.

Analysts suggests this new industry could create billions of pounds a year in value and growth from 2025 onwards.

But plans hit a major setback when Westminster scrapped a £1 billion competition aimed at developing CCS in the UK. It prompted energy giant Shell to mothball a major project in Peterhead.

Haszeldine and his colleagues believe Scotland could establish a new industry based on storing carbon dioxide imported from overseas neighbours.