Scotland’s ambitious plans to be net zero by 2045 mean finding solutions for stalled pumped storage capacity, attracting offshore wind investment and addressing its oil and gas legacy.

In the latest of our series of net zero spotlights we look at Scotland, the home of the UK’s oil and gas industry, that is aiming to achieve net zero in all emissions by 2045. 

Net Zero 2045

In 2019, the Scottish government’s Climate Change Bill committed Scotland net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. This is tougher than a net-zero carbon target, which commits only to balancing carbon dioxide emissions.      

For a country that has benefited from generations of oil and gas production, achieving that will require heavy investment in advanced renewable technologies and the revival of the nation’s pump storage sector, as well as some difficult decisions with the wider UK. 

North Sea oil and gas

Since the 1970s, the North Sea has been a vital source of gas for the UK energy market and oil, most of which goes to exports. While oil and gas production is down from its peak around the turn of this century, the industry still employs an estimated 80,000 people in Scotland and the UK government continues to invest in it. 

This summer, the UK announced plans to issue around 100 more production licenses for the North Sea. Doing so contrasts with the Scottish government’s view earlier this year that it would move to a presumption of no new licenses, though the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said increased output can be compatible with net zero. 

Sunak announced two large carbon capture storage projects at the same time as announcing the new oil and gas solutions, and under UK plans it is expected that net zero by 2050 will still involve around a quarter of the nation’s energy being drawn from oil and gas. As such, alternative decarbonisations will be important for Scotland.

Alternative North Sea vision 

Scotland has an alternative view for the future of the North Sea, which it hopes will continue to lead the world in offshore wind capacity and technology. Indeed, recent offshore wind license auctions have raised £700m in bids for around 25GW of offshore wind projects. 

Scotland has set a long-lasting path on offshore wind, becoming a global hub not only for capacity but for technology too. It’s recent wind licenses include sites far further out to sea than previously possible, thanks to the development of floating wind farm technology in Scotland – which is home to the world’s first commercial floating wind farm already.

Despite tensions with the wider UK government over gas and oil, Scotland’s offshore wind ambitions are also being strengthened by pioneering work by the Crown Estate – the owner of the UK’s seabeds. 

That work is building upon past information sharing systems to create a new platform for research and data sharing across projects, academia and companies. The aim is to create a source of information that will speed up consenting by enabling better decisions about locations thanks to companies not having to start from scratch when it comes to assessing seabed suitability. This should in turn help to encourage more companies to choose the North Sea for their investment. 

Pumped Storage revival

With rising renewable capacity, Scotland is seeking to build sufficient energy storage capacity to manage the over and under supply of electricity over time. To do that, it has returned to pumped storage, giving consent for energy producer Drax to expand its “Hollow Mountain” pumped storage power plant through a £500m investment to more than double its capacity. 

Drax is not the only company seeking to invest heavily in pumped storage in Scotland. SSE has announced plans for an even bigger investment in the Coire Glas scheme on the shores of Loch Lochy in the Scottish Highlands. That scheme would deliver 1.5GW of capacity following investment of £1.5bn in two reservoirs and the power station.  

To make those projects and others a reality, Scotland is attempting to overcome challenges that have seen no new projects move forward since 1984. Both projects would represent a vital step towards Scotland’s net zero, though neither is yet scheduled to begin work. The companies involved and the Scottish government are keen to find a solution against a backdrop of uncertain prices and income that could hold investment back. 


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