Issue 13

FINDING BALANCE IN THE LOW-CARBON TRANSITION

By Murdo Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife and Chair of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Scottish Parliament

The UK’s Climate Change Act set a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below the 1990 base level by 2050. The bulk of our efforts so far have been decarbonising the UK electricity sector, with a smaller focus on encouraging individuals to improve their energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. While these efforts have had significant impact, alone they are unlikely to get us to our target by 2050.

The focus on renewable energy generation has led to a large scale roll out of onshore wind turbines, the most affordable and easily implemented renewable energy source. The subsidies for this technology, alongside the highest carbon tariffs in the EU have contributed to pushing electricity prices significantly higher - annual average domestic electricity prices rose by 3.7 per cent in real terms between 2013 and 2014 to a new high.

Higher electricity prices have a detrimental effect on low income families and businesses with high energy costs, particularly heavy industry. Fuel poverty has risen again between 2012-13 (on recent figures) to a worrying 35%-39% of Scottish households. The UK steel industry has been struggling to compete against foreign steel manufacturers, where electricity costs are lower - the main reasons cited for the closure of the Tata steel mills in October were electricity costs, foreign competition and a strong pound.

As low-carbon power generation technologies are put in place we must be aware of the impact rising energy prices have on consumers.

As low-carbon power generation technologies are put in place we must be aware of the impact rising energy prices have on consumers. While high energy costs encourage consumers to increase the efficiency of their property and cut down on wastage, there are many people in Scotland who simply cannot afford to heat their homes, which may be very difficult to insulate effectively as is the case with lots of the older housing stock. We need to make sure these people are not penalised in our quest for decarbonisation. On the flip side, building new domestic energy generation facilities will increase security of supply, protecting consumers from price fluctuations in international fuel prices.

As we continue to work towards our carbon emission targets we will need to make sure we find the right balance. The balance between implementing low carbon technologies, and the cost to industry and consumers. And to find the balance between reducing carbon emissions though transport, electricity and heat generation, and energy saving and efficiency measures.

The Energy Technologies Institute has done some welcome research into how the UK can best meet its decarbonisation targets. In their models they suggest one of two approaches, either:

  • large infrastructure investments such as new nuclear plants, district heating networks and carbon capture and storage, or
  • greater societal engagement with a significant move to using electric vehicles, and region led programmes to improve efficiency of housing stock, alongside greater support for renewable energy at a national and regional level

In reality I believe that we must take a balanced approach of large scale infrastructure changes and greater societal engagement.

It’s important we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket. Wind power should make up a portion of our energy mix, but if we are over reliant on it we make ourselves vulnerable to power intermittency issues. Likewise, nuclear power struggles to respond to fluctuations in supply and demand, but can make a significant contribution of base line power to the grid.


The Scottish Government is focused on reaching the 100% renewable electricity target by 2020. This sounds impressive, but the corresponding targets of 11% renewable heat consumption, and 10% renewable transport fuel, fall well below the mark.

we will need to make sure we find the right balance. The balance between implementing low carbon technologies, and the cost to industry and consumers. And to find the balance between reducing carbon emissions though transport, electricity and heat generation, and energy saving and efficiency measures.

Greater emphasis on cutting energy usage in residential heating, and transport, as well as common sense measures to cut energy wastage such as encouraging shops not to leave their doors open and turning lights off over night, will make reaching our decarbonisation targets easier. We need to make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices by offering better electric car infrastructure, and community heating schemes.

To give ourselves the best chance of keeping to the Paris targets - limiting climate change below 2oC, and reaching the UK emissions targets by 2050 - we will need to dispense with publicity stunts and impressive sounding figures, and concentrate our efforts across the board, making significant improvements to our carbon emissions in electricity, heating and transport.

At the same time we must not overlook the vulnerable people living in old, cold houses, or the thousands of people working hard in important heavy industries such as steel manufacturing. We have to make sure they aren’t sacrificed in the quest for a greener economy, but protected and helped to adapt.

Murdo Fraser is the MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife and Chair of the Economy; Energy and Tourism Committee

By Murdo Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife and Chair of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Scottish Parliament

Issue 13

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