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BLOG: The light at the end of the tunnel

Posted on 15/10/2018 by Nick Sharpe

As Green Great Britain Week heralds a series of events highlighting the booming low-carbon economy, Scottish Renewables’ Director of Communications Nick Sharpe contrasts the devastation writ large in the latest IPCC report with the hope presented by renewable energy.

 

Last week's IPCC report starkly set out the devastation which climate change is about to wreak on our planet.

As time goes on, a temperature rise above 1.5 degrees, and the consequent negative effects upon the planet, seems more and more likely.

It was heartening, then, to see even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

The message taken by the world’s media from the IPCC’s latest report wasn't one about dying coral reefs.

It wasn't one about melting ice caps, or even rising sea levels.

It was about renewable energy.

And not just the vast sums of money which we need to spend every year in order to bring our energy system into line with our climate ambitions.

This is a story about the opportunity afforded by the industry in which we are privileged enough to work.

The $2.4 trillion per year which should, the IPCC said, be invested in renewable energy to slow climate change’s progress would be an investment not just in the planet’s future, but in the industries of the future.

Take just one example: the fact that sales of electric vehicles reached a record high last month, accounting for one in every 12 new cars purchased in the UK.

It might be assumed that the electric vehicle industry will just be more of the same: plastic and metal bolted together by robots to produce vehicles which sit idle 95% of the time.

An event at Edinburgh Napier University last week, however, brought into focus the new reality of transport.

Academics and policy-makers openly discussed what may seem like a counter-intuitive strategy: local authorities deliberately holding back from installing electric vehicle charging points not, of course, to discourage electric vehicle use, but to discourage the use of personal transport full stop.

For the folly would really be to replace each petrol car with an electric car.

A Scottish Renewables press release in 2016 looked at the benefits of removing the vast majority of personal transport from our roads:

  • Four-lane streets becoming boulevards dominated by people, not machines

  • Space currently used for car parking been freed up to solve our housing crisis, create urban parks or give an increasingly urbanised society more space to breathe

The list goes on.

Whether the future of transport is battery-powered electric vehicles or whether hydrogen will play more of a role is a moot point.

One thing is for certain:

What both forms of transport are going to need is more renewable energy.

For while the folly of replacing each petrol car with an electric equivalent is obvious, the folly of fuelling our electric vehicle revolution with dirty, fossil electricity is less so.

Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, when asked by Scottish Renewables at the Edinburgh Napier event, hit the nail on the head:

“For most people the idea of moving to an EV is that it helps to improve the environment, or to reduce the damage caused to the environment by vehicles which are using fossil fuels.

“To then find out that the electricity they are using comes from a source which is causing damage to the environment completely undermines what we're trying to achieve here.

“Our ambition to grow in the renewable energy sector remains - we want to see that continue to develop.

“We want people, when they move to electric vehicles, to have the confidence that the greater part, if not all, of the energy which is being supplied comes from renewable sources. That is our ultimate objective here.”

Our work at Scottish Renewables covers all renewable energy technologies.

And for all their differences, the message is often the same as that highlighted by Mr Matheson.

Heat pumps can revolutionise the way we warm our homes and reduce the enormous carbon impact of the largely-inefficient heating sector.

But it would be madness for heat pumps’ dirty secret to be their dirty power supply.

The same goes for hydrogen: a clean vector which currently, economics dictate, would be produced from fossil fuels.

We know that renewable energy offers a brighter future, not just for Scotland, but for the world.

What the IPCC’s latest report does is bring the reality we live with everyday into sharper focus for everyone else.

Investing in renewables creates jobs, has an enormously positive economic impact and opens a pathway to decarbonising our lives.

The faster we do that, the more chance we have of avoiding the terrible vision painted by the IPCC’s report.

 

  • Green GB Week, the landmark week of action to celebrate Clean Growth, takes place between 15-19 October.

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications