Scotland’s transition to renewable energy is inevitable. With the potential for reliable, environmentally friendly energy sources that will never run out, it seems like an easy decision. But is it really that straightforward? And can renewable energy replace oil and gas altogether? We’re not so sure. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that must fit together for success, and we can already see that there are a few missing.
But let’s start by considering the potential benefits of renewable energy in Scotland. We have to protect our planet and a transition to renewables will be hugely important for reducing emissions. Fossil fuels provide around 80% of the world’s energy but also more than 75% of the world’s greenhouse gases, so renewable energy provides a crucial opportunity to reduce global warming.
Renewables also provide an infinite source of energy that is clean and efficient, and renewable technology requires less ongoing maintenance, reducing costs. With new projects comes more jobs, which benefits local communities as well as the wider industry, and by reducing emissions and air pollution, we would also see public health improvement.
This all sounds positive, so what are our concerns?
Lack of infrastructure
One of our main concerns is that although the transition to renewable energy will bring many large-scale projects, Scotland doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to support them. Currently, a lot of production is being outsourced to Europe and Asia and there’s a huge amount of work to be undertaken for businesses in Scotland to be able to conduct this work.
High implementation costs
Although renewable projects are cheaper to maintain long-term, initial installation costs are very high. If businesses are to be supported in implementing large-scale projects, a substantial amount of funding is needed for this to be achievable.
The renewables transition has been on the agenda for some time now, but we still do not have the necessary facilities to support a renewable sector. Most of the required manufacturing is being done overseas as our facilities are too small and we are not currently able to produce what is needed locally.
We’re all still learning about renewable energy, which means that new technologies are still being developed and tested. We already know that traditional energy conversion devices are effective, but efficiency levels of renewable energy sources such as solar panels can be as low as between 15% and 20%.
The Scottish Government has stated that it aims to generate 50% of Scotland’s overall energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030 and to have decarbonised our energy system almost completely by 2050. Although these are great targets to aim for, we just don’t believe it can happen this quickly when there are still so many key issues to be resolved in such a short time.
So, what does this mean?
There are many issues and implications to consider, especially for the North Sea industry, and it will take time to see a positive impact. Renewable revenue won’t be generated quickly, and we believe that oil and gas will still have its place for some time to come.
Christopher Goodall notes that in 2019: “The value of oil and gas production in Scottish waters was approximately £22 billion” and that “based on today’s approximate value for a megawatt hour of wind electricity, Scotland’s offshore capacity will be worth about £2bn, or around a tenth of today’s Scottish oil and gas industry size.” He goes on to say: “Exploited to their fullest extent, renewables can wholly replace the role of fossil fuels in the Scottish economy, but the challenge is a tough one.”
So, it can’t be expected that the oil and gas industry will be replaced entirely by renewables, and although we understand the objections to new oil fields, we also have to remember that for now, they play an important role in financial survival for our energy industry. Energy minister, Greg Hands, said that without Cambo the UK will have to import more oil which would see a number of negative impacts: “It would almost certainly drive up the price of energy. And it would almost certainly be bad for energy security. And it’s likely to be bad for emissions…I would say we need to make sure that we take good care of the resource that we’ve got while still making the transition.”
There’s no doubt that transitioning to renewable energy will be a hugely positive step for Scotland, and it is an exciting prospect, but only once the foundations are in place for it to be successful and sustainable in the future.
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