Scotland is set to become the UK’s leading location for attracting renewable energy investment, with an £8 billion injection into the sector expected within the next five to six years.
The projected figures – equivalent to £4.5m per day – come after 2011-12 statistics compiled by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) revealed that £1.7 billion of new renewable energy projects were completed north of the border, creating an impressive 4,411 jobs.
Only Yorkshire – with £1.9bn of new renewable energy investment and 5,416 jobs – topped Scotland in the DECC UK investment league for renewable energy.
Other parts of the UK showing high levels of renewables investment and jobs last year included the east of England with £845m and 1,360 jobs, and the north-west of England with £642m and 1,544 jobs, according to the DECC statistics.
However, the figures for all new renewables projects in the pipeline showed that Scotland is likely to storm ahead of other UK locations, with up to £8bn of investments expected and the creation of a further 3313 jobs.
The latest news suggests that the nation will head the DECC investment league table for years to come.
One key project included in the £8bn investment are the plans by Gamesa to invest up to £121m in developing a new offshore wind hub at Edinburgh’s port of Leith. The plant is to be assembled by mid-2013 in partnership with Forth Ports, creating over 800 jobs and helping stimulate growth of the renewables industry in the local area.
The investment will re-industrialise and redefine a place characterised by the effects of twentieth century economic decline and resulting structural unemployment.
It is a project representative of the Scottish government’s drive to create both an environmentally and economically sustainable future for Scotland.
Indeed, the extra £8bn of investments in the pipeline is a matter of more than just a country which has an abundance of renewable energy sources – 25% of Europe’s offshore wind, 25% of its tidal and 10% of its wave power – but resultant of a government under SNP power committed to promoting Scotland as a global renewable energy centre.
John Wilson, the deputy head of Holyrood’s energy committee, stressed that the latest figures highlight the attraction of Scotland for renewables investment. He said, “The fact that the Scottish government had continued with its policies of promoting renewable energy has provided the industry with confidence.
“Scotland will not only continue as a producer of renewable energy, but will also become a major manufacturer of renewable technology.”
Indeed, the SNP administration marked its commitment towards renewables last year in record-breaking fashion when, in the overall aim to generate the equivalent of 100% gross electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2020, it exceeded the 2011 interim target of 31%.
If the £8 billion investment target is met and exceeded because of this same political motivation, it would dwarf the projected £1.8 billion lined up for Yorkshire over the same period.
Reiterating the significance of the SNP party in making Scotland a centre for renewable energy, Stewart Stevenson, Scotland’s environment minister, said earlier last week: “The renewables industry already supports more than 11,000 jobs across Scotland and plans to install up to 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind-generated capacity in Scottish waters are predicted to create around £30 billion of investment by 2020 and to directly employ 28,000 people.
“The emerging wave and tidal energy industry, where up to 1.6GW of capacity is planned for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, is predicted to create several thousand more renewables jobs.”
However, the latest DECC figures have given critics the opportunity to stick the knife into Alex Salmond’s renewable energy ambitions.
Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said that the SNP government’s “overreliance” on renewables would lead it to become a “one-industry country”. He also targeted Alex Salmond by insisting that UK ministers had set the regime which made Scotland so attractive for renewables investment, and claimed that the First Minister “should stop blowing his own trumpet over these figures”.
Of course, Mr Johnstone’s claims are designed to undermine the First Ministers campaign for independence by attacking one of the key ways in which the SNP want to boost economic growth for Scotland in the future: establishing a re-industrialised green energy sector.
Yet redefining Scotland’s energy economy by continuing to focus on renewables is a positive political move. It will maintain the existing strong investor confidence in Scotland as a global renewable energy centre, creating thousands of new jobs and training opportunities while alleviating the country from a future dependency on oil.
Interestingly, the DECC figures were published soon after the UK government launched its draft energy bill, which some critics – notably WWF Scotland – have warned will be skewed towards the support of nuclear power. Such a move may threaten future renewable energy generation.
Certainly, it is true that until the point where all of our energy needs can be met with renewables, there will still be a need for fossil-fuel and nuclear energy sources. But it will also be vital that renewables opponents learn to understand that just because it is unclear now about whether renewable energy can be produced cheaply on the commercial scale, does not mean to say that the government should stop investing into research and development in the interest of having a more sustainable form of energy in the long-term.
The £8 billion of future investments will be realised not just because of Scotland’s natural energy resource potential – but also because of an exciting pro-renewable political environment headed by Alex Salmond which has and will continue to succeed in attracting big investors to towards developing offshore, wave and tidal technologies up to commercial scale application.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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