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BLOG: Foot to the floor on the clean transport superhighway

Posted on 05/01/2019 by Laura Russell

Scottish Renewables Chief Executive Claire Mack ponders what the future holds for green mobility.


When I was going through the recruitment process for this job, one of the questions that made me pause for thought was “If you had five minutes with President Trump, what would you say to him?”.

The 45th US President had literally just signalled his intention to withdraw from the hard-won Paris Agreement and it felt like a personal body blow to me, and to every generation behind me.

I replied that I would tell him that he was quite simply swimming against the tide and the subsequent picking up of the gauntlet by his State and City level leaders since shows this to have been the case.

At Scottish Renewables we know that the next big challenges are the decarbonisation of heat and transport.

Together they make up more than 75% of the energy we use and are the toughest nuts to crack because they need action at the atomised, individual level rather than at system level where incentives and revenue support have worked so effectively to create our supply of clean electricity.

We are holding two events this month to take a deep dive into the policy issues around transport.

The events one paid seminar, one free to members, both on February 21 – will focus on which fuels will power the clean transport revolution and how people, places and business models will change and adapt with this. 

Here in Scotland we have continually led the drive towards a cleaner, greener economy, and we’re now seeing local regions, cities and towns step up to the plate on transport.

The national-level vision for the vital A9 as an electric highway is underpinned by numerous ideas and plans currently being devised and discussed by local authority and city leaders.

We’ve already seen hydrogen buses pioneered in Aberdeen, but the real benefits from the clean transport revolution will come when we recognise the environmental and economic benefits of systems built not just around transit requirements, but fully integrated with local housing and wider energy needs.

In 2016 Munich saw €9 billion invested in clean energy projects, with others such as Copenhagen intensely focused on creating better places to live and work through, for example, aiming to be CO2 neutral by 2025.

Vancouver has set itself a target to derive 100% of its energy from renewable sources before 2050.

Melbourne this week became the first city in Australia to power all its municipal infrastructure with renewable electricity.

Deputy Mayor Arron Wood told how the revolution was being funded, in part, by efficiency measures including a $16 million upgrade of the city’s 12,000 street lamps to LED lights.

He said:

“This will be a good hedge against future price rises.

“When people say to me that it costs money to support renewable energy projects, well, we are actually paying for our renewable energy projects through our efficiency projects.”

These aren’t just passing fads.

Research from the retail sector has shown that one third of people make favourable buying decisions towards brands that they feel are doing environmental or social good. Being a city or local authority in Scotland that excels at this will attract more people and businesses to locate and work there.

Our city and local authority leaders have the ability to use the electric transport revolution to drive multi-generational, positive change.

This is not just about trying to find the least-intrusive way of siting an EV charging network. It’s about using that network to ensure that people – citizens and visitors – can use their top up charging time in a way that is most beneficial to your area and its local businesses.

Dundee is working at the leading edge of renewably-powered transport with its solar roof charging point – a bold move from a city which already boasts the busiest rapid chargers in Scotland.

Perth and Kinross Council has created a vision for integrated housing, EV charging and heat recycling which will set it apart as a region of the future; powered by green, clean energy and offering the smart, sustainable lifestyle that environmentally-aware younger generations demand.

Talk of a ‘Green New Deal’ is getting louder in the US, with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a newly-elected member of the House of Representatives, describing action against climate change as “the civil-rights movement of our generation”.

EV sales are continuing to rise, and with popular and accessible models such as the electric Mini coming to the market expect this to be the story of 2019, and many years to come.

Electric vehicles which can be deployed as mobile batteries could help solve one of the knottiest issues we have: a grid that needs significant upgrades to get the best out of Scotland’s natural resources, wherever they are.

As OVO Energy say:

“We’re hurtling towards a place where ‘two-way’ electric car chargers can enable homeowners with electric cars to sell their energy back to the national network.

“It’s a smart idea when you consider that over 90% of cars are parked at any one time – which is a lot of energy just sitting there doing nothing.

“This game-changing tech is about far more than potentially making EV owners money3, it also plays an important part in helping to ‘balance’ the national electricity network. And it feeds into a national initiative called demand side response (DSR): a programme that aims to rebalance our energy needs around the country by changing how we produce, supply and use energy.”

These infrastructure upgrades are underway, but regulation also needs to bend and flex to ensure it matches the vision and ambition of those innovative city and local authority leaders.

In the meantime, we need to remain open to the opportunities (and potential new revenue streams) that our transport transformation offers. 

The debate over the use cases for electric, biofuel and hydrogen-powered transport seems to have many more rounds to do.

The consumer market for EVs is developing more rapidly than that for hydrogen-powered cars, but hydrogen is being developed and rolled out in shipping, while sustainable biofuels seem to be the answer for aviation.

One place that is combining its assets to make use of their available natural resources is Orkney, where constrained renewable energy which can’t be accommodated by the grid is being used to create hydrogen to power harbour operations and, in time, a ferry.

As ever in energy, innovation and modification are the keys to driving down costs and making our clean transport future a reality.

One thing’s for certain, though: the road to getting there is paved with opportunity.


  • Book here for The Road to Renewable Transport Solutions Seminar. Headline sponsored by HV Sytems. Event sponsors: Invest in Fife, Addleshaw Goddard and ABB.
  • Book here for Transforming Transport: Getting from A to EV - member event held in association with event partners - the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. 


Picture courtesy of HV Systems.

Laura Russell

Communications Officer