Some Good News for Friday: Scotland Electricity Nearly 100% Renewable in 2020
"97.4% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption was from renewable sources"
Scotland has narrowly missed its 2020 renewable electricity target of 100%, according to a recent government report. While missing a target is not generally cause for celebration, barely missing an extremely ambitious one should be cause for a tad bit of revelry, at least, especially when coming so close to such an important milestone.
While that milestone hasn’t quite been met, Scotland is clearly matching ambitious planning with ambitious action. The 2020 target was set back in 2011, when just “37% of national demand” was met by renewables.1 In 9 short years, Scotland has transitioned from renewables making up around a third of its gross electricity consumption to renewables making up almost all of it. After past glimpses of singular months being >100% renewable, an image of perennial renewable electricity is coming into focus in Scotland, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.
This almost-achievement is being powered in large part, as you may have guessed from the banner image, by bagpipes.2 Sorry, I meant to say onshore wind power.
The government report breaks down the electricity sources by share: onshore wind at 60.3%, offshore wind at 10.7%, hydro at 18.1%, other at 8.3%, with 2.6% of total electricity not being accounted for by renewables. Hydropower in Scotland has provided roughly the same amount of electricity since at least 2000, so the chief increases seen over recent years have come from the other sources, mainly onshore wind.
These increases will likely continue. Scotland may essentially be at its renewable electricity target, but it aims to greatly increase its renewable energy consumption, too. Along with an overall goal of net-zero carbon by 2045, the Scottish have a more short-term goal of achieving 50% of total energy consumption from renewables by 2030. At 24% currently, Scotland is almost halfway to its energy-from-renewables goal.
With most of its electricity grid carbon-free, Scotland is free to move ahead to the next stage of societal decarbonization, focusing largely on heating and transport. This will be a similar stage found in many other industrialized nations once they catch up to Scotland, utilizing a carbon-neutral electricity sector as a multi-purpose tool to aid in other decarbonization efforts. With such a tool in hand, nations can reduce CO2 caused by homes and buildings through a transition from oil and gas heating to clean electricity heating. Internal combustion engine cars powered by gasoline/petrol can be replaced with EVs powered, again, by clean electricity.
These are just a few of the ways a carbon-neutral grid can serve as a baseline for further emissions reductions. With these and other benefits in mind, we can see why President Biden has made a carbon-neutral grid by 2035 a priority. And from the case of Scotland’s rapid transition in general, we can see the plausibility of a similar, immediate transition for the US. A clean electricity grid will not singlehandedly deliver a carbon-neutral society, but its primary and secondary effects will make such societies possible.
So, three cheers for the progress of Scotland! Plus, they’re taking efforts to preserve their peatlands, which help to store double the carbon that Earth’s forests store and help provide quite the flavor in the traditional uisge beatha. Nice.
Back in 2005, it was just 15.5%