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Engineers criticise Scotland’s renewables pledge

The Scottish government has no “practical strategies” to achieve its target of generating all Scotland’s electricity from renewables by 2020, a damning report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has said.

The report, published on 4 November, warns that there is no engineering analysis behind the policy and that it may result in increased fuel poverty and dependence on energy imports.

The Scottish government has pledged to generate 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity and 30 per cent of its total energy consumption—including heat and transport—from renewable sources by 2020. On 30 June it published a “2020 Routemap for Renewables” outlining plans to develop small-scale and locally-owned projects such as microgeneration and “agri-renewables”.

But the report says there is insufficient evidence behind the commitment.

Unlike the UK, it argues, there are no “reliable official figures” of energy consumption in Scotland and therefore “nothing on which to base the percentage targets”.

It also points out that Holyrood’s 30 per cent goal is far more ambitious than the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive, which says that the UK should generate 15 per cent of overall energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

The engineers argue that the Scottish National Party’s focus on electricity is too narrow since it is projected to account for only 21 per cent of total energy consumption by 2020.

Heat and transport, on the other hand, will comprise 49 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, it adds. For that reason, it argues, the focus should be on wider energy efficiency instead of an expansion of electricity generated by renewables.

In addition, electricity generated solely by renewables will require lots of back-up power, it says. It highlights wind power as an example, which it says can generate electricity only when the wind is blowing at certain speeds.

The report argues that the situation is likely to lead to a dependence on imported power from coal and gas plants in England and Northern Ireland or continental Europe. This is partly because the SNP has decided to follow Germany’s move to shut down nuclear power plants in the next few years in the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan, it says.

“The Scottish Government is absolutely right to exploit the country’s huge potential for renewable energy, but we have serious concerns that the over-ambitious 2020 target will push up prices and, combined with the government’s distaste for nuclear power, turn Scotland from a net exporter to a net importer of energy,” said Colin Brown, director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in a statement.

“Without any clear, workable and engineering-based plan of action, it is doubtful whether these targets are achievable at all. Holyrood needs to draw up a detailed, achievable and public strategy on how they plan to deliver these targets.”

In the same statement, the institution says its report was backed by a poll showing that some 70 per cent of 1,000 Scottish respondents would not support the targets if it meant paying more for electricity.

In addition, it says, 63 per cent are not interested in closing nuclear power plants if meant importing energy as a result.