Towards an integrated energy strategy for Scotland

27 Sep 2016

Energy system integration is an appealing concept but it faces some familiar policy problems, as Mark Winskel, University of Edinburgh, discusses in the Scottish context.

This is a defining period for energy and climate policy in Scotland. The new Scottish Government is developing an integrated Energy Strategy and Climate Change Plan. Scotland was recently praised by the Committee on Climate Change for its efforts on climate mitigation, but the Scottish Government now faces the familiar challenge of combining decarbonisation with energy security, affordability and wider policy objectives. For example, there is a strong emphasis on economic growth in Scotland and that will greatly shape efforts to embed energy policy into the overall policy mix.

Interdependencies

Some policy debates assume there is a distinct Scottish energy system whose future can be directed by the Scottish Government – yet there are deep interdependencies between Scottish, UK and international energy issues, and these need to be built-in to any truly ‘whole systems’ approach. For example, electricity and heat/gas infrastructures are highly integrated at the Great Britain (GB) level, in terms of their physical and technical operation, and economic and social support systems. Meanwhile, fuel prices and the cost and performance of energy technologies are both largely settled in international markets and production/innovation systems.

How much localisation?

One of the pillars of the Scottish Government’s new strategy is a shift to local energy systems. Energy system decentralisation is now attracting global interest, encouraged by emerging small scale supply, network and storage technologies. Yet economies of scale are still significant in key low carbon technologies (such as offshore wind and carbon capture and storage) and large scale infrastructures still offer many advantages. Localisation is an interesting prospect, but it should not be pursued as an end in itself, but as one possible way of meeting public policy aims.

Whole System Challenges

One tendency in Scottish policy is to focus on visible successes, especially renewable electricity. Again, taking a truly whole systems and whole economy approach means facing up to harder parts of the problem, especially given raised international climate policy goals post-COP21. This means, for example, addressing industrial sector emissions, transport emissions and the future of the oil and gas sector. Again, many of the responses here are likely to be in-part international and large scale, as well as domestic and small scale.

Guiding Principles

The International Energy Agency highlighted some high-level principles for energy policy: the need for a predictable, evidence-based and transparent policy framework, integrating specific interventions into an overall strategy, and having a dynamic ‘policy learning’ approach that can be adjusted in the light of changing national and global economic and technical trends. The Scottish Government now faces the task of applying these principles in challenging circumstances.

Dr Mark Winskel is UKERC Scottish Policy Faciliator & Chancellor’s Research Fellow on Energy Innovation, University of Edinburgh.