Renewable Energy in Scotland

A Critical Overview

Scotland is on the verge of a "green revolution" that can be accomplished through the calculated use of harnessing the region's renewable energy (Record View 8). Though not without its challenges, Gardner's 2010 report has demonstrated that it is possible by 2025 for the nation to use renewable resources for 100% of its gross electricity consumption (1). At the present time, the target for Scotland is 80%, however, the data suggests that in excess of 100% is a realistic goal for the nation. In addition to being possible, it is also credible in that it can be accomplished without the net costs being excessive and the reliability of the electric supply not be reduced below projections or current levels (2). The figures presented by relevant research studies suggest that demand management of electricity will not be a strong factor beyond the projected growth rates of the nation. The renewable energy solutions being illustrated in this study demonstrate that the potential for the energy production can exceed the current projected demands. Despite this, demand reduction for 2020 has a 12-22% reduction target (4). The overall consequences of increasing renewable energy in the Scottish grid will be decreased reliance of fossil fuels, better standards of healthy living for the people of the region and the accomplishment of European Union goals for renewable energy production in the United Kingdom. In addition, it can also make Scotland a world leader in the field of renewable energy. Using renewable energy will necessitate a mixture of a variety of sources. The primary generation capacities using renewable energy sources in Scotland will be focal on thermal, offshore wind and onshore wind with other lesser producers that include biomass and energy from waste (27). Nuclear energy may be required in the initial phases of the transition, however, it can be phased out by 2024 (27). Though there is a robust grid at the moment, it will be necessary to add additional storage facilities to make the "green revolution" an efficient reality.


The world's reliance on fossil fuels is advancing at an unsustainable rate. In addition to being finite in terms of supply, fossil fuels have been linked by the scientific community to pollution, global warming and a variety of public health crises. In addition to the dwindling of supply, economic constraints will ultimately make the retrieval of such resources no longer cost effective if renewable energy is developed to its true potential (Renewable 1). The impending energy crisis has led to the G-20 taking an increased focus on stimulating the development of renewable energy. Though varying in sizes, the commitment of the largest economies in the world to renewable energy is speaks multitudes for the future direction of energy for the entire human race. Technically, the renewable energy movement is not new and it is generally recognized to be nearly four decades old (Renewable Energy Committee 269). According to the Renewable Energy Committee in 2008, significant changes in how renewable energy is perceived have evolved in recent years (269). The Committee explained, "Among the notable differences [in attitudes] are the dominant role Climate Change concerns play, the new breed of capital markets available for renewable initiatives and parallel regulatory initiatives, including renewable portfolio standards" (269).

Green Energy Renewal

Nations have taken note of this new found paradigm shift. For example, Hawaii has proposed to have 70% of its energy needs met by renewable technologies by 2030 (269). Scotland, as a member of United Kingdom, has a high potential for renewable energy development. A recent report authored by Paul Gardner for Garrad Hassan & Partners Ltd has demonstrated the feasibility of having over 100% of Scotland's energy needs met through renewable energy by 2025 (1). While this is feasible, it requires analysis of grid consequences, outlining the correct mixture of RE generation and additional storage facilities to make the process efficacious. While the information outlined in this study will be based on current technological capabilities of 2011, it is understood that advances in the field of RE will continue to influence the efficacy of the process. These innovations, however, as with most scientific discoveries, will allow for a more efficient production in the long term. The results, however, are not based on "what if" scenarios as they are rooted in what is possible at the present time with proper planning.

Renewable Energy and Scotland

Though most renewable energy (RE) comes form the sun, actual solar power will not be the primary mechanism or figured into the recommended energy mixture to accomplish 100% of Scotland's energy needs. In the most elementary of explanations, RE are those energy sources that are "constantly replenished and will never run out" (Renewable 1). The targets for Scotland that directly apply to RE can be illustrated as follows: GHG emission reduction (42%), total energy coming from renewables (20%), gross electricity consumption (80%), heat from renewables (11%) and a demand reduction by 12-22%. These targets are generally outlined to be accomplished by 2020 (4). By 2050, the nation also seeks to have an almost complete decarbonization of road transport with significant progress by 2030 (4). All of these targets are feasible and most dimension can be exceeded. According to Gardner:

Scotland has very large resources of renewable energy. In many cases, for practical purposes the resource will ultimately be limited by public acceptability and by cost, and at present we do not have a good idea of where those limits will lie. However in the short and perhaps medium term, renewable energy production is limited by the rate at which projects can be consented, financed and constructed (4).

Scotland also carries the potential to be a major exporter of RE electricity, which could be extremely profitable to the nation (4).

Some of the primary RE sources available to Scotland are hydro, onshore wind, offshore wind, wave, tidal, biomass and energy from waste. Hydro electricity would be available for Scotland on a relatively small level. It would be accomplished mostly through small river schematics that do not necessitate the use of reservoirs or significantly environmental alterations. Offshore wind is an immense resource for Scotland, the primary limitations surrounding this form of RE will be the public's acceptance of its visual impact (4). It does have higher costs for transmission in the short term but projections estimate that by 2015 onwards it will be the cheapest source of electricity (4). Offshore wind is a strong resource and the primary drawback is biodiversity related issues and the transmission costs related their distance from major resource consumption areas (4). Wave has potential for Scotland, however, at the present time there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding costs and environmental impacts of this form of RE. This is also the same for tidal energy sources (4). Biomass is a promising form of RE, however, in Scotland it is not necessarily advantageous. Scotland has poor soils and low solar inputs that make it difficult to efficiently harness as part of the mixture recommendations for the long term. Energy from waste is a very small resource; yet, it has perhaps the lowest risk and it also suffers from having no advantage for use in Scotland (4-5).

As Gardner points out, "There is no evidence at present to rule out any of the renewable components of the scenarios for 2030 on cost grounds" (5). This is particularly notable feature of RE in Scotland as cost is a primary focus for public and private sector change management. Optimal mixtures of the resource need to be primarily driven by the forms of RE that have the highest potential for Scotland. While RE, as a form of industrial development, has been occurring throughout the UK, the change is most dramatic in Scotland. For Scotland, the area has the best wind resource in Europe (Geographical 70). Wind energy will play the primary role in meeting both the UK government's target for RE and the even more ambitious Scottish Executive's goals (70). On and offshore wind power will be the largest mechanism of RE with energy potentials of over 40000 GWh by 2029. At the present time, wind energy is slightly over 10000 GWh (27). Offshore wind is projected to become the largest producer of electricity by 2029 slightly edging out onshore wind (27). At the present time, however, the wind power in Scotland is primarily onshore wind driven. The second largest resource mixture would be thermal energy.

Thermal is the current highest generator capacity for Scotland with over 20000 GWh's of potential that is projected to remain fairly consistent by 2029. Wind power, however, is estimated to grow along with wave, tidal and biomass (27). Energy from waste will be part of the equation, but it is estimated to stay consistent. Primarily, by 2029, wind and thermal power would be 75% of the optimal mixture based on resources available in Scotland. Part of the RE growth pattern will likely include Nuclear energy. At the present time, nuclear energy can produce nearly 20000 GWh (27). By 2023, the generation capacity estimates put forth by Gardner demonstrate that it can be completely phased out (27). This will be advantageous as nuclear energy has high risk and pollution factors despite its classification as an RE source. It is also worthy to note that Scotland has the potential to produce a quarter of all of Europe's wave and tidal power, which means that this will also have to be developed simultaneously to the afore mentioned mixtures.

Renewable Energy Generation and Demand

The success of renewable energy in Scotland on the level of demand management is two fold dynamic. In one regard it requires and estimation of the total energy demand by the people and in the other regard it references how RE will or will not be a demanded commodity. In the first regard, the projections put forth by Gardner demonstrate that even with the current rate of energy usage, proper nurturing of the RE paradigm can exceed the projected needs of the people. As a result, demand management is important, but it is perhaps more important to focus on efficient RE development that will exceed projections as this will have the best results for the people and fiscally. In terms of economic viability, which ultimately drives demand for an industry, the new RE era in Scotland is estimated to bring thousands of jobs and billions of pounds worth of investment to the area (Record 8). Where money is to be made based on projected demand, investment will also follow in the common economic principle model. HSBC Global Research alone has estimated that 303 billion was spent worldwide on energy efficiency measures in 2009. Major companies around the world are riding what many consider to be "the renewable energy wave".

In the UK specifically, stimulation of the RE industry has come in the form of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). In Scotland, according to Kerr, "This has resulted in major investment in proven technology, particularly onshore wind energy. The marine environment offers a potentially larger resource, but the technology to exploit it is still being developed" (375). Another common practice that has increased the demand for RE development are Feed-in Tariffs (FITs). FITs promote the development and use of renewable energy and their advantages over other mechanisms. As Sovacool explained, "Everyone wins with Feed-in-Tariffs and every Kilowatt hour of energy from renewable resources saves lives, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, enhances human health and improves social stability" (49). The demand based on human well being cannot be underestimated. Fossil fuels, as the principle non renewable energy source, have been illustrated to cost the United States alone billions of dollars annually. These costs include health care for respiratory illness, neurological disorders and birth defects (1011). In the UK, inefficiency in energy distribution under current models saw 30,000 to 60,000 deaths from excess winter deaths (EWDs) in vulnerable members of the population. There is a demand for cleaner and better organized energy distribution that can be managed through the aforementioned mixture of RE. This is being driven by environmental demand, government stimulus and current deficiencies in the system that are all nurturing free market driven investment in the green industry.

RE Generation Consequences: Grid and Beyond


While it is important to logistically analyze the consequences to the Scottish grid when considering the RE development, it is also important to outline the general consequences of RE development. Essentially, the development of RE will be creating a new industry in Scotland. As with any new industry, regulation and and public perception will be critical. Problems with local planning authorities will be an issue. Essentially, visual and landscape impacts are issues that will pose the most problems for mitigation. Not adopting RE to the grid, however, will make Scotland more susceptible to fuel cost fluctuation. This puts the energy distribution and well being of the country in reliance on foreign based fossil fuel cultivation. RE in Scotland, in contrast, can put the energy paradigm into the domestic sphere thereby giving the UK and Scotland greater autonomy in the world economic and political theater. On a macro level, failure to develop RE into the grid will contribute to the larger problem of global climate change as currently fossil fuels provide 95% of the commercial energy used in the world economy. Failure to change, as can be illustrated in any business model, will result in the inability of an organization, or in this case a nation, to prosper. This includes both domestic prosperity and the overall well being of the human race and the planet. No two nations, however, include the same set of provisions in their green investments due to logical RE dimensions related to their region. As a result, a greater understanding of the actual grid consequences must be examined with critical attention.

Specific Grid Consequences

One of the grid related consequences of meeting and exceeding the RE energy cultivation is the transportation of resources. The outlined RE related constructs will generate energy, however, this energy will have to be exported to key locations in order for it to meet the demands of Scotland. Reaching the 100% electric supply for Scotland is feasible, however, transmission interconnections will have a major role in realizing the potential. Based on available literature on the subject, adding RE to the grid and including the resources figure of interconnections to other electrical systems will not create a cost prohibitive model for consumers (42). For consumers, price is major focal point for influencing decisions. There is a demand for energy and RE added into the grid can meet these demands in a cost effective manner. This is political example of what can be classified as a "win-win" situation. Some of the major failures in the existing market for electricity include electricity prices not truly reflecting the costs of generating power, energy subsidies have created an unfair market advantage over conventional fuel and RE is such a "common good" that is enables society to benefit from people's investment without necessarily paying for them (49). The outlined dimensions of the grid RE additions have been projected without falling into any of these potential pitfalls. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that "the interconnection capacity required for a secure electricity system is less (probably substantially less) than the interconnection capacity which may be economically justified by the value of electricity exports" (Gardner 1).

Decreasing RE from the grid, as has been previously alluded to in the macro thematic category, essentially will promote fluctuation and volatility in the market. This could lead to scenarios in the future where consumers may either be unable to afford electricity or where not enough electricity is available to meet the demands. In either situation, the prosperity and public health of the residents of Scotland would be in jeopardy. Particularly for the poor and feeble members of the population during the cold months, weather related patterns could result in death and in unnecessary health care related expenditures. There are logistical concerns related to attaching these power sources to the grids, however, the technology exists for it to be done. In addition, continued innovation will make the connectivity of the system more efficacious as the RE model progresses. While it would be unreasonable to count on innovations making RE in the future as part of the present plan, it is not unreasonable to assume that the proven attributes and technology that currently exist to reach the 100% aim will become more efficient over time.

Additional Storage Facilities


Though some additional storage facilities will have to be added, it was found by Gardner that better interconnections and transmission system reinforcement was more cost effective than energy storage (5). As a result, better storage facilities would be a short term necessity while the development of technology to increase better interconnectivity would be able to circumvent such costs related to storage in the future. In addition, better technology can reduce the losses of energy that occur in pump storage facilities (8). The development of hydro power will have one of the more close relationships to larger storage development than some of the other more established RE sources (12). At the present time, if it is assumed that pumped storage facilities at Cruachan and Foyers will remain active, the additional storage facilities at Balmacaan and Coire Glas could accomplish a further 300 MW in 2018 bringing the number to 900 MW by 2019 (13).

For wind energy, which is Scotland's highest RE potential resource at the present time, heat storage is a highly important consideration. By pursuing greater heat storage technologies and creating more heat storage facilities, "Energy storage would allow output of variable renewables to be matched to electricity demand" (21). Some emergent technologies that have been successful in this area include compressed air storage, which has been used effectively in Germany where pumped storage opportunities are virtually non existent (21). For the immediate scenarios, increases in pumped storage and electric vehicles should be combined with conversion of an existing hydro stated to provide elements of pumped storage (21).

Technology Exploration

At the present time, the recommended RE mixture is based on the available RE technology. As a result, expanding technology to harness other types of RE should be part of the the "green revolution" in Scotland. For example, though wave technology was estimated to produce small amounts of GWh by 2029, it is possible that a better understanding of that power source and how to harness that power source could make it far more productive in the future. With the ocean being a consummate form of natural energy and Scotland's proximity to the ocean, it would only be logical to explore and develop this form of electricity. The same can be said of tidal and biomass technologies. Biomass, in particular, though limited by current deficiencies in Scottish resources, could actual become more feasible if technology developed to the extent that it could overcome current limitations. For solar energy, which is a more common RE in sunnier parts of the world, it is also possible that increased technology exploration could overcome some of the reasons it was not added to the current projected grid paradigm for 2030. Emergent technologies and the exploration of emergent technologies will continue to make the quest for RE more cost efficient with better returns.


Renewable energy exploration no longer has the option of being a luxury scientific pursuit. Finite resources and environmental impact have established the unmistakeable conclusion that mankind cannot continue on its present path. Though many ambitious figures have been attached both by the UK and Scotland itself about how much renewable energy can be harvested in the next 20 years, research suggests that with the current state of technology, Scotland can exceed these goals and surpass the 100% mark. The process will not be perfect and it will be constantly evolving, however, the potential to make RE in Scotland efficacious for meeting the projected demands in a cost effective manner is quite promising.

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