As Winter truly kicks in and people notch up the numbers on their thermostats (or smartphones), the Scottish Government has been ramping up its efforts to transform the nation’s energy sector. From changing the definition of fuel poverty to funding community renewable energy projects, here’s David Wilson with a snapshot of the latest energy news.
Fuel Poverty Bill
It’s estimated that 31% of Scottish households are fuel poor, meaning they are spending more than 10% of their income on making sure their homes are ‘satisfactorily’ heated. In its attempt to address this issue, the Scottish Government introduced the snappily titled Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill to Parliament in June 2018. It’s seeking to change the definition of fuel poverty and set out a long term stagey to ensure that no more than 5% of households will be fuel poor by 2040 through a combination of action on home energy efficiency; reducing energy costs; changes to benefits; and challenging how energy in the home is used. The Bill is currently being considered by the Local Government & Communities Committee, and most witness have raised concerns it doesn’t go far enough to tackle the issue. Housing associations and public advice bodies have called for more powers to be devolved to local government, while highlighting the unique challenges of addressing fuel poverty in rural areas.
Public Energy Company
Announced in October 2017, the Government is trying to establish a publicly-owned, not-for-profit energy company by the end of the current Parliament. Suggestions on how a public energy company could be developed were laid out in the Strategic Outline Case, which claimed the company could start out as an energy franchiser before moving into energy generation and direct supply. However, it’s not been without its doubters. Evidence sessions have been mixed, with scrutiny focusing on the viability of the company to ensure the tax payer isn’t left with, as Paul Wheelhouse put it, an “expensive albatross” to fund. Currently, there is no funding stream for the company in the draft 2019 Budget and the Government is awaiting the Business Outline Case due in March before it launches a further consultation on the issue.
The Scottish Government published its energy strategy in December 2017, laying out its plan for the energy sector and its renewables goals. The document made many references to community led and owned energy schemes and their importance to reaching its 2030 and 2050 targets. Currently, only 11% of ‘locally and community’ generated electricity in Scotland is done so by communities, the rest of that figure is made up of a loose group of farmers and private estate owners. This is a number that the Government will need to increase if it is to meet it community and locally generated energy targets of 2GW by 2030, which is looking more difficult to achieve with the end of UK Government feed-in tariff schemes coming in April this year.
Energy storage is a very in vogue phrase among Scottish Government officials at the moment, with Paul Wheelhouse talking about its potential at a recent Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee. He was keen to stress its importance in tidal energy production and highlighted the work between Nova Innovation and Tesla on their storage project in the Shetland Islands as something that could deliver a real “breakthrough” in tidal energy. Similarly, an Edinburgh hotel became the first in the UK to be powered by a battery earlier this year, with the ability to power its entire premises for three hours at a time.
Oil & Gas
Although there’s been a big focus on moving Scotland’s energy generation towards renewables, it’s worth noting the oil and gas sector still accounts for more than 79% of Scotland’s heat energy production. As such, the Government has committed £8bn to the sector to secure the heating supply and support 115,000 jobs. Similarly, decommissioning in the North Sea over the coming decades could be worth £60bn accumulatively to the economy. However, the Greens (as you can imagine) aren’t particularly keen on the Government spending money on helping the sector, as they believe continued reliance on fossil fuels is having an immediate and disastrous effect on the climate.