Nicola Sturgeon is heralding Scotland as a ‘world leader’ on climate change, with a pledge to legislate for net zero carbon emissions by 2045. Underpinned by Westminster’s 2050 target, and proposed reforms around Brexit, this commitment has given renewed focus to the rural sector’s role in providing more green energy and reducing greenhouse gases.
Scottish farmers will be central to meeting Holyrood and Westminster targets due to their access to land. They will increasingly be presented with opportunities for large-scale renewables, tree planting and peatland restoration, among other initiatives.
Scotland’s natural resource base for renewable energy is extraordinary by UK, European and even global standards, with the rural sector’s key potential sources being wind, hydro and solar and with developments becoming larger in order to achieve economies of scale:
The cost of wind development has reduced significantly and wind remains Scotland’s fastest growing renewable technology, with a further 11.5 GW of potential onshore production. Output has broken through the 100 per cent threshold for the first time, with 109 per cent of total electricity demand being met from renewables and the surplus being exported.
The market is very different from three years ago, when solar opportunities collapsed after subsidies were pulled. With solar panel prices reducing by nearly 90 per cent in the last decade, the market is back and developers are increasingly seeking land around key grid infrastructure, normally for 100-acre plus schemes. At a self-generation level, zero subsidy solar has the same payback as when the FIT (Feed-in Tariff) was first introduced for large energy users.
Scotland has 85 per cent of the UK's hydro-electric energy resource. It may become critical to balancing the UK grid, as we move away from fossil fuels, and is therefore a sector to watch. Up to 1.2 GW of capacity remains available, mostly in the form of micro schemes, although environmental and political constraints remain. A flurry of sites are coming through with the final phase of the FIT scheme.
The Scottish Government's Climate Change Plan sets targets to restore 50,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2020, increasing to 250,000 hectares by 2030 and to incrementally increase the annual woodland creation target from 10,000 to 15,000 hectares per year by 2024/25.