RENEWABLE energy holds the key to powering Scotland’s future and our country is so richly blessed with prized natural resources that it is well-placed to become a key player in the sector. Unless, of course, our third North Sea bonanza in a row is mishandled by Westminster as our oil and gas and fishing sectors have been.

Scotland only narrowly missed out on generating the equivalent of 100% of its electricity demand from renewables in 2020. The latest figures show it reached 97.4% from renewable sources. That’s a huge stride forward in just a decade. When this target was set in 2011 renewable technologies generated just 37% of national demand.

Industry body Scottish Renewables says output has tripled in the last 10 years, with enough power being produced from renewables to provide for the equivalent of seven million households. In 2019, Scotland met 90.1% of its equivalent electricity consumption from renewables, according to Scottish Government figures. That was 53.2% better than the UK average.

Exports of renewable electricity are also higher than they’ve ever been. We exported £745 million worth of electricity in 2019 as wind power increasingly became what some experts called “the country’s second North Sea Oil”. More than 17,000-gigawatt hours were transmitted to England and Wales that year, the highest total ever recorded.

There are some amazing statistics that show the extent of Scotland’s natural wealth in renewables:

  • Our total exports of energy to the rest of the UK are worth around £5.1 billion per annum, of which £2.8bn is nominally low-carbon/renewable energy.
  • The renewables industry currently contributes £6.4bn to Scotland’s economy and employs more than 23,000 people in Scotland. The industry is predicted to expand exponentially in the next few years.
  • Onshore wind in Scotland supports almost 2300 jobs directly (43% of the UK total) and is responsible for 51% of the UK’s turnover in onshore wind activities.
  • The number of employees in Scotland’s offshore wind sector grew by 171% between 2014-2017.
  • With less than 1% of the population of Europe, Scotland has 25% of Europe’s entire offshore wind power resources, 25% of Europe’s tidal energy resources and 10% of wave energy potential.
  • In 2018, Scotland accounted for 24% of the UK’s renewable energy.

The renewables industry offers Scotland huge potential for growth. In the race to replace traditional ways of generating energy with alternatives involving natural processes, wind, wave, tidal, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric energy have become the key environmentally friendly energy sources of the future. Biomass energy is also classified as renewable.

All these feature heavily in the European Commission strategy, A Clean Planet For All, which was published in November 2018 and offers a long-term vision of climate neutrality by 2050. Renewable energy offers countries the ability to localise energy production, reducing energy costs for rural communities and creating highly skilled green jobs.

READ MORE: Praise for Scotland as renewables meet 97 per cent of 2020 electricity demand

Scotland was the first country in the world to vote to recognise a climate emergency. The Scottish Parliament has passed a Climate Change Act which set legally binding targets of a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (on 1990 levels) and reaching net-zero emissions by 2045.

Scottish Renewables chief executive Claire Mack said: “Scotland’s ambitious climate change targets have been a tremendous motivator to the industry to increase deployment of renewable energy sources, and in the last 10 years alone we have more than tripled our renewable electricity output – enough to power the equivalent of more than seven million households.’’

Scotland has in the past been more associated with energy assets such as oil or natural gas, and previously coal, which were non-renewable. In other words, they will run out at some point. Such carbon-based energy sources are not environmentally friendly.

However, blessed with the resources to generate offshore and onshore wind power and wave and hydroelectric power Scotland is now at the forefront of the movement towards renewable energy. Those new energy markets offer a huge economic opportunity for Scotland. So there is a clear incentive to increase investment in this market. Not only does Scotland have natural wealth, its government has the political will to make the most of it.

Its actions include establishing the Energy Investment Fund that will invest £20m in low-carbon energy infrastructure, supporting the marine energy sector and tidal innovation through the £10m Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund and investing £60m in the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).

Westminster has not followed suit and is actively holding Scotland back from exploiting its natural advantages. The Conservative Government’s policy has notably ignored the implications of massive changes in the supply of energy. Its thinking is still clearly focused on the expansion of Heathrow and nuclear power plants such as Hinkley Point. In 2016, Westminster voted to end grants for new onshore wind turbines, a move which resulted in a 57% fall in investment 2017.

Regardless of these setbacks, new figures from Weather Energy and the UK Government show Scotland is setting itself apart from the UK trend. Investment in renewable energy has increased in Scotland. Even in the onshore wind industry, where the UK Government cuts will be felt the hardest, there is growth.

Of course, more needs to be done to cut emissions from transport and heating. WWF Scotland’s climate and energy policy manager, Holly O’Donnell, has called for an acceleration in the roll-out of electric vehicles and grants for renewable heating in Scotland. She said: “Not only do renewables reduce the impact of our electricity use on the climate, they are also generating jobs and income for communities around the country. In order to cut the climate emissions from the transport and heat sectors, we will need to continue to increase our use of cheap, clean renewables”

The mismanagement of energy resources in Scotland is a sore point. Tens of billions of pounds generated by North Sea oil and gas were frittered away by Westminster and not re-invested in Scotland. We cannot let thin happened to the economic benefits of renewable energy which by rights should improve the lives of ordinary people living and working in Scotland.

The differing priorities of the UK and Scottish governments mean the case for giving Scotland the power over its own energy policy is simple and would allow both countries to tailor policies to their economic advantages.

Energy sector stakeholders in the north-east are looking to establish the region in areas such as tidal energy, offshore wind and hydrogen. National government backing has come to many of these projects. The Scottish Government, with its limited powers, is committing an initial £62m funding package, while the UK Government is committing a paltry £32m. Renewables would get far more funding in an independent Scotland as it would be a priority for Holyrood not an afterthought to Westminster.

As a start, an independent Scotland should gradually re-introduce taxation on the oil industry (abolished by the UK Government in the form of Petroleum Revenue Tax). These funds should be ring-fenced for specific investment and development of the renewables sector. R&D grants that go oil and gas companies should only be available to firms that pay their taxes in Scotland and don’t hide their profits in tax havens.

Only by giving Scotland full control over the ability to shape the renewable sector will its full potential be realised. We cannot risk the possibility that Westminster will once again squander the opportunities that Scotland’s natural energy sources offer. Let’s learn the lessons of the past and make sure we have the power only independence can give us to help create the type of country we want to live in.