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BLOG: Renewables are power with purpose

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications

Posted on 18/12/2017 by Nick Sharpe

This blog by Scottish Renewables Chief Executive Claire Mack first appeared as a column in The Times on December 18.

 

Renewable energy is about more than just megawatts – it’s power with purpose.

Scotland’s continued determination to reap the environmental and economic benefits of a shift to green energy is setting us up to capture an economic prize on a global scale.

Recent news from the energy sector has shown once again that renewable energy can beat conventional generation on cost.

The results of an auction for clean power capacity in September delivered offshore wind – derided as “very expensive” just four years ago – at £57.50 per megawatt hour. That’s not far off half the cost of new nuclear.

Some big words accompanied the prices achieved by offshore wind – phenomenal, astonishing, amazing – and the sector should be rightly proud of the cost reductions it has achieved. But some perspective here is a good thing.

Renewables is still a young industry, and cost reductions like this aren’t possible for all technologies.

An example: Scotland leads the world in marine energy, with home-grown companies already delivering devices which can capture energy from our waves and tides.

The global opportunity presented by this technology is vast.

But these companies currently have no way to sell the power they produce, because they simply cannot compete on price with offshore wind.

So should we give up on them and focus on the cheapest options?

Would this match with the aspirations of the Clean Growth Strategy?

Will it increase our productivity, create good jobs, boost earning power for people right across the country, and help protect the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend?

Of course not, and of course we shouldn’t. Innovation is not a cheap business, and it takes time.

Are lower bills and a country powered by renewables mutually exclusive? Absolutely not – but we need patience if we’re to make the transition work for everyone in society.

The past saw us power economic growth with carbon, and there are still huge swathes of the planet to go through this cycle.

Climate change crosses boundaries and borders – the climate version of the credit crunch will not be something we can austerity, tax, spend or buy our way out of.

To make the most of the energy transition, both economically and environmentally, we need to think long term, and we need to think globally.

There is a huge opportunity here and we can be ready to grasp it when the rest of the world looks to us to see the action we’ve already taken.

How amazing would it be for these islands to re-write the energy playbook? And to do it while we still have options.

Climate change presents us with a burning bridge, and our industry is responding with innovation and radical thinking.

How will we heat our homes in 2030? Where will the power for the shift to EVs which has been set out so clearly from our political leaders come from?

Already the renewable energy industry is thinking about the solutions to these challenges.

This is bold.

The global clean energy challenge needs an entrepreneurial mind-set. There is no easy or quick fix.

There’s no shortage of clever people around renewables who know exactly why they are doing what they are doing.

As an industry we need to tell a better story about ourselves. There is a need to break out from behind our own technologies and shout about what we can bring to the table, about why we are important, and about why we are the future.

We need to prevent early-stage, innovative technologies being picked off by price-led arguments.

We need to look and learn internationally to build and feed resilient supply chain businesses that can compete.

And we need be firm that we can and will set an example to the world about the sort of nation we want to be, and to offer leadership to those earlier on their journey.

Scotland’s Energy Strategy, which will be published this week, is expected to retain a new target, proposed by Scottish Renewables.

Under it, half of all our energy – across heat, electricity and transport – would be delivered by renewables by 2030.

This is our chance to tap a vast global opportunity by selling the technologies and ideas which will be part of other nation’s new energy stories. 

We can’t build our energy future by looking only at the pounds and pence.

What we offer has value way above and beyond providing consumers with energy.

Renewables are power with purpose, and it’s now up to all of us to think about what kind of energy future we want.