The transformation of Scotland’s energy system will be one of the biggest economic and societal changes we will all live through.
Energy underpins every part of our economy and our energy industry is part of Scotland’s national economic identity. From coal mining through to the development of large scale hydro power and the bringing ashore of oil and gas, it has played a part in shaping our nation.
As a country with a rich oil and gas heritage, we have a responsibility and an opportunity – in a time of geopolitical and climate crisis — to balance energy security and national economic and social benefit with our international climate commitments.
The Scottish government has recognised for a number of years that the unlimited extraction of fossil fuels cannot continue. As Glasgow prepared to host Cop26 just over a year ago, I set out our intention to move away from a policy of maximum extraction of oil and gas and to set out a new plan for Scotland’s energy system.
Our draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan seeks to do just that. As this plan shows, it is not just the climate crisis — vitally important though that is — that necessitates a just transition away from fossil fuels.
Independent research based on industry projections finds that production in the North Sea is projected to be about a third of 2019 levels by 2035 and below 3 per cent of the 1999 peak by 2050.
The inescapable fact is that the North Sea is now a mature basin. Even without the climate crisis, we have a duty to plan now for life after oil and gas.
Just as we were one of the first nations to commercially exploit offshore oil and gas, we are now one of the first to meet head on the practical and moral issues that come from a reliance on fossil fuels.
In this decisive decade for our energy sector, we have focused our strategy on delivering bold, ambitious, near-term action to provide confidence and a clear steer to industry, investors and the people of Scotland.
We will increase our existing renewable generation capabilities by at least 20 gigawatts by 2030, compared with 13.4 gigawatts today. This increase could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of every home in Scotland for seven years. Wind power is already one of the cheapest sources of energy we have and can be deployed at a pace commensurate with the climate emergency we face.
We have set an ambition for hydrogen production to provide the equivalent of a sixth of Scotland’s energy needs by 2030, with that output increasing fivefold by 2045.
There will also be increasing roles for solar, hydro and marine power as we confirm our intention to reject inappropriate and outdated sources of energy such as coal or fracking, and to reduce use of oil and gas.
Of course, a transition of this pace and scale cannot be achieved by government alone. We will work with business and investors to attract the capital and inward investment that is needed to make it happen. We will support communities to benefit from, own and invest in renewable generation in their areas.
This will not just be good for Scotland’s energy self-reliance, it will transform our exporting potential too — supporting the supply needs and decarbonisation ambitions of our international neighbours.
I know that for some, particularly in the northeast where the oil and gas industry has been a major employer for so long, this scale of change can feel deeply uncertain and worrying. But if we do it properly – with a determination to leave no community behind — it is in fact a huge opportunity.
A key finding of the research underpinning our Just Transition Plan is that the energy transition will result in a net jobs gain in the energy production sector, with the potential to create more jobs than currently exists within the oil and gas sector.
The transition to hydrogen and the huge potential for green hydrogen to become a new export industry, will provide opportunities for the existing oil and gas workforce and use the significant surplus renewable energy we have the ability to generate.
Our £500 million Just Transition Fund is already providing support to grow Scotland’s highly skilled energy workforce, increase jobs and encourage communities and businesses, particularly in the northeast, to prosper.
Our route map forecasts 58,000 low-carbon jobs being created in energy production as a result of the renewables revolution. And this does not take into account the jobs created if we realise the enormous export potential of renewable and low-carbon energy generation.
Realising the full scale of opportunity in front of us will require focus, determination and hard work. The Scottish government is geared up to deliver that. But it will also require action at a UK level.
Delivering on this strategy to its full extent requires powers we do not currently have, for example to reform energy markets, deliver grid infrastructure upgrades or license the Acorn carbon capture and storage project around Peterhead.
Our strategy sets out the specific, pragmatic actions that need to be taken by the UK government to deliver an outcome that is in all of our interests. For this reason we have invited the UK government to join us in a focused energy transition delivery group to drive this vision.
This blog first appeared in The Times on Wednesday 11th January, 2023.