Scottish renewables targets could worsen fuel poverty, say engineers
Report says Holyrood lacks a workable strategy to reach ambitious targets
Scotland’s ambitious plans to generate the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 may increase fuel poverty and turn Scotland from a net exporter to a net importer of energy, according to a major new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The ‘Scottish Energy 2020?’ report considers what would be needed from an engineering perspective to deliver the 100% renewable electricity target by 2020, as well as the country’s self-imposed target to source 30% of its overall energy consumption (comprising heat, transport and electricity) from renewables by 2020.
The report lists a number of concerns about one of the Scottish Government’s flagship policies. These include:
• A reliance on intermittent electricity sources, such as wind power, will require a large amount of back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow. The move away from nuclear power means that Scotland would be forced to turn to imported power from coal and gas plants in England and Northern Ireland to keep the lights on, reducing emissions savings and turning Scotland from a net exporter, as it is now, to a net importer of energy.
• While a more manageable renewables target would have less impact on energy prices, the infrastructure and market incentives required to meet the 100% target so quickly will cost billions. Rising oil and gas prices have caused energy costs to rise in recent years – the 100% target will only exacerbate this price rise and push more people into fuel poverty.
• The policy doesn’t appear to be based on any published strategy or engineering analysis of what is physically required to meet the 2020 target. There are currently no reliable official figures of Scottish, as opposed to UK, absolute energy consumption (combining heat, transport and electricity) and therefore nothing on which to base the percentage targets.
• The 100% target would require renewable energy capacity to be built at five times the rate of the last decade over the next nine years, despite the fact that all the best sites for on-shore wind have already been taken, there are still many unknowns for off-shore wind and Scotland currently lacks the skills base and manufacturing base to make this happen.
• Holyrood is focusing on the wrong sector of energy consumption. By 2020 electricity is projected to make up just 21% of total Scottish energy consumption, whereas heat and transport will make up 49% and 30% respectively. It would be more effective to focus on a wider range of sectors and reduce demand through energy efficiency measures rather than increase the supply of electricity from renewables.
These findings were supported by a poll of the Scottish public showing that 70% of the 1,000 respondents are not prepared to pay more for renewable energy. 63% of respondents believe that the Government should not close nuclear power plants if it means importing energy to replace it. The poll was commissioned by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and carried out by ComRes.
Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:
“The Scottish Government is absolutely right to exploit the country’s huge potential for renewable energy, but we have serious concerns that the over-ambitious 2020 target will push up prices and, combined with the Government’s distaste for nuclear power, turn Scotland from a net exporter to a net importer of energy.
“Without any clear, workable and engineering-based plan of action, it is doubtful whether these targets are achievable at all. Holyrood needs to draw up a detailed, achievable and public strategy on how they plan to deliver these targets.”
The report calls for the Scottish Government to introduce an energy policy that is based on the ‘SMART’ principle: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based targets and makes the following recommendations:
• The Scottish Government should, as a matter of absolute priority, establish, agree and publish the current position in terawatt-hours per year (TWh/y) of the gross energy consumption in Scotland in the three component fields of heat, transport and electricity.
• If Holyrood wants to maintain its 100% electricity target by 2020 it should clearly state a strategy for achieving it based on engineering rigour.
• The Scottish Government should prioritise the sourcing of secure, reliable energy supplies for the nation’s electricity, heat and transport needs, while effectively tackling the growing issue of fuel poverty.
• Poll Methodology Note: ComRes interviewed 1035 Scottish adults online between 4th and 6th October 2011. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all Scottish adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.