Climate

Scotland’s Incredible Progress Toward Going Fully Renewable

CREDIT: flickr/ Gordon Robertson

New data from the Scottish government shows that the country generated 49.8 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2014, effectively meeting its target of generating half of electricity demand from clean sources by the end of this year.

The milestone means the 50 percent target was met a year early, with overall total renewable generation up 5.4 percent from 2013. The next benchmark in the government’s plan is to generate enough renewable energy to power 100 percent of the country’s demand by 2020.

Results from the first quarter of 2015 show that growth is continuing at a rapid rate. Scottish wind farms produced a record amount of power in the first three months of this year, up 4.3 percent from the first quarter of 2014. The wind farms produced a total of 4,452 gigawatt hours (GWh), enough to power some one million U.K. homes for a year.

Thanks to a massive investment in onshore and offshore wind, Scotland has established itself as a renewable energy leader in the region. According to the new figures, Scotland’s renewable electricity generation of just over 19,000 GWh made up about 30 percent of the U.K.’s total renewable generation in 2014. More than half of this came from wind, with nearly another third coming from hydropower. Only 137.9 GWh came from solar.

While Scotland’s renewable energy sector is currently thriving, prospects are not necessarily as sunny going forward. Last week the U.K. government, led by recently re-elected conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, announced intentions to end new subsidies for onshore wind farms next April. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd said that “onshore wind is an important part of our energy mix,” but that the U.K. now has enough “subsidized projects in the pipeline to meet our renewable energy commitments.”

The U.K. has an overall binding target of getting 15 percent of the energy it uses for heat, transport, and power from clean sources by 2020. On Thursday, the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced that the share of renewables in 2014 was 6.3 percent, ahead of the interim 2014 target of 5.4 percent.

The amount of electricity generated from renewable sources in the U.K. in 2014 was 64,654 GWh, a 21 percent increase on 2013. The greatest increase in renewable generation came from biomass, which has become a controversial source of power due to the local environmental impacts of logging and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting the fuel, oftentimes from American forests across the Atlantic. Wind energy still accounted for about half of all renewable generation in the U.K.

According to the U.K. government, as much as 5.2 gigawatts of onshore wind capacity could be eligible for installation before the subsidies expire. Rudd also recently said that 7.1 gigawatts, or some 250 projects, are “unlikely to be built.”

“We are committed to cutting our carbon emissions by fostering enterprise, competition, opportunity and growth,” said Rudd in a statement. “We want to help technologies stand on their own two feet, not encourage a reliance on public subsidies,”

Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s energy minister, is unhappy with this assessment, saying that the “U.K. government’s proposals will have a profound and disproportionate impact on Scotland.”

“Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective renewable energies, yet the U.K. government’s perverse decision to end support puts this hard work and progress in jeopardy and the Scottish government will continue to argue against it,” he said.

Ewing recently told Parliament that ÂŁ3 billion-worth ($4.7 billion) of onshore wind projects in Scotland and over 5,000 Scottish jobs will be at risk if the subsidy ends early.

Those in the wind industry are also protesting the U.K. government’s move to cut the subsidies, with Ian Marchant from the British Wind partnership, saying that “it surely cannot be the government’s intention to deny local communities the chance to host onshore wind projects if that is what they want to do.”

“Energy policy needs to honestly reflect the views of voters: the government’s own polls show onshore wind is backed by 65 percent of the public — more than supported any political party at the election,” he said.

Rudd and Ewing recently agreed to hold talks this fall to determine the best way to move forward with onshore wind subsidies. Conservatives’ promised to end state support for the program in their recent election campaign.