While other countries backpedal on their promises, Scotland remains steadfastly committed to reaching net zero by 2045, and the renewables industry is leading the way

If Oscar-winning movie Oppenheimer reignited nightmares about the threat of nuclear annihilation, our global cognisance of apocalyptic climate change is perhaps more acutely unsettling, assuredly existential and no less dramatic.

Thankfully, with government and business-led strategies now striving to achieve net zero, there is also a strong sense of optimism for the realisation of an energy-secure, low-carbon future.

There are, of course, caveats. Recent world events, not least the Ukraine conflict and its impact on oil and gas prices, have created unforeseen obstacles leading many to argue that Scotland should increase oil and gas production. Indeed, in October last year the UK Government granted 27 new licences for North Sea projects.

The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, representing 300 members with £19 trillion in assets, reported in February that 63 per cent of energy companies surveyed had moved or were planning to move to markets “more supportive of their sustainability goals”.

What is evident however, is, while others backpedal on vows, Scotland remains steadfastly, and legally, committed to reaching net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK, with commitments that include £1.6 billion low-carbon funding to secure a just transition to a netzero economy, a 20-year vision for energy efficient, zero-carbon housing and £500 million for infrastructure to support active travel.

Significant developments in the country’s renewables industry suggest a parallel direction of travel in attempting to match the scale of these ambitions.

According to figures from Scottish Development International, Scotland currently sits in the top 10 offshore wind markets worldwide, with a project pipeline of more than 45GW, with 3.4GW operational or under construction and 6.7GW consented to or in planning.

Meanwhile, the onshore wind sector deal sets out commitments from the government and industry to deliver on a collective ambition of 20GW by 2030.

Red Rock Power, headquartered in Edinburgh, is an owner, developer and operator of renewable energy projects in Scotland and Europe, with a portfolio of five part- or fully-owned wind farm projects, with close to 2GW of generation capacity installed or in late-stage development.

While the scale of offshore wind grabs headlines, the company underlines the valuable contribution even smaller onshore wind farms can make to the net-zero transition. Its 50MW Afton project in East Ayrshire and 67MW Benbrack onshore wind farm, set for completion in 2025, will together power more than 100,000 homes.

Its chief executive, Xiaomeng Chen, says: “We are encouraged by the government and wider society’s urgent calls for more renewable energy, however there also needs to be improved awareness and understanding of the rising costs of, and barriers to, delivery.

“Post-Covid market conditions, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, inflation and rising operational costs, means the past two years have been challenging for the supply chain and our projects as a result. We’re starting to see costs stabilise however, and the project team is continuing to lock down key contracts and further optimise commercial elements where possible.”

Red Rock has welcomed the UK Government’s increase to contract for difference (CfD) budgets and price caps in Allocation Round 6 (AR6 ) as a strong indication of its commitment to supporting developers combat the rising cost of delivery.

“In AR5 a total pot of £240 million was split between onshore and offshore wind technology and, unsurprisingly, no offshore projects bid, sending a strong signal to government the sector expects more support in turn for delivering net zero. It would seem this message was received loud and clear.

“Continued investment in the grid, future-proofing transmission infrastructure for increased and varied renewable energy generation, as well as improved policies to ensure this is executed quickly, are key here. We welcome the Review of Energy Market Arrangements (REMA) and a positive outcome for the future generation of renewable energy.”

Another energy source in today’s spotlight is renewable hydrogen, with projects to drive innovation in its production, storage and distribution to receive £7 million in Scottish Government funding. In the wake of Scottish Enterprise announcing sector support in its plan to boost growth, interest is growing among companies already involved in major schemes.

Clare Foster, head of clean energy at Shepherd and Wedderburn, headline sponsor of the All-Energy 2024 conference, taking place in Glasgow on May 15 and 16 alongside Dcarbonise, notes: “In the UK, industry is already playing its part in trying to achieve the enormous clean energy generation targets set by government and a huge amount has been achieved.

“However more could be done if the sector was not faced with challenges outwith its control. There are levers government holds that would help unlock the potential of various projects and markets: expediting planning applications, providing more policies that would encourage investment, accelerating grid infrastructure investment and providing more support to the supply chain. “

The opportunities are enormous, if we can harness them in short order, but for that to happen there needs to be tangible, deliverables-and-output-focused decision making, and supportive frameworks.

“With consultation and education I can only see Scotland prospering”

While renewable industry giants tackle the challenges of providing clean energy and creating its delivery infrastructure, the work of smaller companies is equally important. As of March 2023, there were 338,385 SMEs in Scotland, providing 1.2 million jobs, and so their adoption of low-carbon work practices is vital.

You don’t get more grass roots in ‘going green’ than GSB Landscapes. A familyrun business for 37 years, headquartered in Blantyre and employing 15 people, it supplies grounds maintenance services to clients on behalf of homeowner residents and users.

Development manager Paul Allan believes net zero means embracing ‘green tech’ at every level. He says: “We established a co-ordinated approach, looking to improve across four specific areas: the source of our energy, our equipment, becoming more efficient and modernising.

“Our supplier for energy has a commitment to providing 100 per cent renewable electricity and we sought to improve this further with installation of a solar PV system with battery storage.”

GSB is almost paperless and has invested in the tools of its trade, evolving from petrol-powered machinery to battery chainsaws, strimmers and hedge trimmers.

Allan notes: “Net zero seems a long way off and has plenty of critics but, without a set destination, it would be enormously difficult to start on the journey. With consultation and education, as well as support from government and business, I can only see Scotland prospering.”

Public’s sustainability role grows

Developers are increasingly aware of their clients’ growing interest in Scotland’s route to net zero and the importance of consulting with them over plans.

One example is a sustainable residential-led development at Maybury Quarter Edinburgh, site of the former Saica packaging facility in the west of the city where the public can view and comment on the proposals.

Promoted by Summix Capital, Maybury Quarter provides an opportunity to regenerate a former industrial location on Turnhouse Road covering 15.5 acres ( 6.3 hectares). The low-carbon neighbourhood aims to deliver a mix of uses, including housing, hotel, commercial and retail sites and is allocated in the city council’s Proposed City Plan 2030 for residentialfocused redevelopment.

The first public consultation outlining proposals was held in March at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Glasgow Road and a second event will be held on May 22, with updated proposals to include feedback and comments from the first event.

Further information at www.maybury-quarter.co.uk