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Scotland sets out challenge of further decarbonisation

Gains from renewable power generation will difficult to repeat from domestic heating efficiency and transportation

The next stage of decarbonisation will be a “massive challenge” for the Scottish economy, as it moves towards a 75pc reduction of its 1990 emissions, according to a senior member of the Scottish government at the Baker Hughes annual meeting in Florence, Italy, on Monday. 

Scotland has already decreased its carbon emissions by 47pc compared to its 1990 level through a range of measures including a shift to renewable power generation, particularly onshore wind.

It committed last September to a very ambitious 75pc reduction by 2030, which Paul Wheelhouse MSP, minister for energy, connectivity & the islands, says is “5pc beyond what science says we can achieve".

The challenge is how to achieve further reductions “at this very accelerated pace” when the relatively easy changes have already been made. “We have to decarbonise road transport, decarbonise rail transport and decarbonise heating,” says the Scottish National Party figure. 

Scotland, like the rest of the UK and Northern Europe, is c.75pc dependent on hydrocarbons for its total energy consumption, according to Wheelhouse.

Gains from electricity generation alone cannot be enough to hit the new target. While Scotland generates c.75pc of its power through renewables, “and the lights have stayed on”, power only represents one-fifth of its total energy needs.

Domestic gas

Scotland has an extensive domestic gas pipeline network, having benefited from North Sea gas for decades, which is used to provide household heating. While gas has a far better carbon profile than many other fossil fuels, especially coal, Scotland is seeking to move a step further.

In any case, while Scotland still sees gas as a transition fuel, North Sea gas is expected to dwindle by 80pc by 2050, according to Wheelhouse.

A forthcoming review of the gas network is due in 2023, “but may be brought forward”, looking at which other lower carbon fuels could utilise the existing distribution network.

“It is a key task for us to identify what are realistic, technically deliverable and cost-effective solutions to try to decarbonise our heating systems,” says Wheelhouse.

For transportation, as Scotland has a relatively low population density compared to the rest of the UK, it is more costly and complicated to build an electric vehicle charging network.

Scotland will host the COP26 United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2020. “We will be very much in the spotlight,” adds Wheelhouse. 

Wheelhouse was speaking on the ministerial panel at the Baker Hughes annual meeting on Monday. A video of Wheelhouse commenting after the panel can he found here.

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