Ilona Amos: New Energy Strategy is opportunity for a bright future

The draft of Scotland's new Climate Change Plan was published last week. It outlined lofty aims for greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions '“ 66 per cent by 2032 '“ and how this can be achieved. The plan has received a broadly positive response, though there have been calls for more far-reaching action in some areas.

Renewables such as this tidal turbine provided 13% of Scotland's total final energy consumption in 2013 - campaigners want it to be 50% by 2030. Picture: Scottish Renewables

Today will see the unveiling of our first ever Energy Strategy, which will set out the long-term vision for the power sector and is aligned to the new climate goals. It will bring together the Scottish Government’s plans across all areas of energy – electricity, heat and transport – for the first time.

We’ll find out what exactly is in it this afternoon, but it is expected to focus on three main themes. How to ensure the country has secure and affordable energy supplies in the future while decarbonising the sector; creating an integrated system, taking in heat, transport and power production; and promoting local community involvement and ownership of generation schemes. It will also take into consideration shifts in UK government policy, new powers being devolved to Holyrood, emerging innovations and of course Scotland’s new climate targets.

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The country can be proud of it’s environmental ambitions, which are the toughest in the world, and its progress towards them. The 2020 aim for a 42 per cent cuts in emissions has already been reached – and exceeded – six years early.

Green energy is a big success story. Home-grown wind power was able to supply enough power to meet the electricity needs of the whole country for a full day for the first time in August last year. A new industry has sprung up around the renewables sector, bringing around 14,000 skilled jobs and an annual turnover of more than £5.4 billion.

We’ve been doing pretty well on greening up electricity generation, with renewables providing 57.7 per cent of demand in 2015. However, electricity is only responsible for 21 per cent of our total energy needs. Heat accounts for more than half – 54 per cent – and transport 25 per cent. The most recent figures show only 13 per cent of our total final energy consumption came from renewables in 2013. The proportion of energy for heat and transport derived from renewables is a paltry three and four per cent respectively.

The new Energy Strategy offers a huge opportunity to benefit not only the environment by cutting emissions but also to improve health and quality of life for Scots through reduced air pollution, more jobs and combatting fuel poverty.

Existing aims demand the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity demand and 11 per cent of heat to come from renewables by 2020. But now there are widespread calls to set a new target for half of all our energy to be renewable by 2030.

This looks like a tall order but campaigners believe it can be done – and there is research to prove it. They claim a new 50 per cent target is not only achievable but necessary. The Scottish Greens are also been pushing for it.

Hot on the heels of the new Energy Strategy we’re expecting the launch of a public consultation on unconventional oil and gas, including fracking for shale gas and extraction of coalbed methane. A moratorium has been in place for the past two years while evidence was gathered. The reports are in and the country will now get a chance to have their say.

So it’s fair to say there will be a lot of eyes on energy minister Paul Wheelhouse when he takes the floor at Holyrood this afternoon.