Rebecca Lunn: The most recent Scottish Government figures show that around 70% of Scotland’s total electricity consumption is produced by renewables. But, electricity only accounts for about one quarter of Scotland’s total energy consumption – most of our energy is consumed by heating and transportation (air, road and rail) almost all of which is produced by burning oil and gas. This means that only around 20% of Scottish energy consumption is produced from renewables. In June 2019, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, launched the final report of its major Inquiry into Scotland’s Energy Future. The two-year project had a goal of assessing the pros and cons of the options available to meet Scotland’s energy needs. This allowed a committee of independent experts to take evidence from a wide range of stakeholders; including an open call for written evidence, public engagement events across Scotland, and numerous meetings with government, industry and third sector organisations. The report considers Scotland’s current energy landscape, analysis of the future options available to meet energy demand, and the governance of our energy system. The RSE Energy Inquiry report makes a number of recommendations. However, perhaps its most important point is that there is no silver bullet. There are no easy answers to the enormous challenge we face. If we cannot significantly reduce energy demand, which must clearly be a government priority, we may need to double or even treble our low-carbon electricity production. For example, current government policy aims to reduce carbon emissions from transportation by switching to electric vehicles. However, while such a move is certainly necessary, it is not sufficient. The additional electricity required to power our electric cars must somehow be produced, and by low carbon methods (renewables or nuclear). One option to reduce carbon emissions from domestic heating is to convert all our heating systems to run on hydrogen gas. However, based on current technologies, we can only produce sufficient hydrogen by manufacturing it from methane, a process which produces carbon dioxide. Hence, we would still need to invest in technologies for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide. This may prove expensive, so who should pay? Scotland already has a high percentage of households in fuel poverty – 25% in 2017. Future energy policy must consider a wide range of possibilities within the framework of the “energy quadrilemma” – climate change, affordability, energy security, and providing energy in a just and sustainable way. One of the primary outcomes of the RSE Energy Inquiry is the need to raise the level of informed, evidence-based discussion around energy policy and its impacts. Too often debate on how we source and use energy focuses narrowly on individual technologies and their (both real and perceived) drawbacks. Public opinion is also influenced by the “not in my back yard” problem of not siting production sites near people. A key recommendation of the RSE report is the establishment of an independent expert advisory commission on energy policy and governance. If given the requisite authority and resources, such a commission would provide the Scottish Government, legislators and regulators with integrated and impartial advice. It could also address related areas such as fuel poverty, climate change mitigation, economic development, environmental protection, planning, transport, community development and public health.
Herald 3rd Aug 2019 read more »