Niall Stuart: More to be done on renewables

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The renewable energy industry came to Edinburgh yesterday and today for its largest gathering since green energy overtook nuclear as Scotland’s main source of power.

More than 600 delegates, many of them international visitors, were expected at Scottish Renewables’ Annual Conference, which brings together the sector’s biggest players ahead of May’s general election.

Scotland’s renewable energy industry employs more than 11,000 people – more than 2000 of them in the Lothians alone. Edinburgh itself boasts the world-leading FloWave Ocean Energy Research facility as well as two universities conducting cutting-edge research into green energy, some of the fastest-growing renewables businesses in Scotland and the UK Green Investment Bank, which drives funding into the sector.

Our annual conference saw experts in wind, hydro, solar and biomass energy, among many others, meet to discuss the challenges and opportunities for their sectors. And while we have done incredible things in recent years – more than doubling our capacity in Scotland since 2007, for example – a bumpy road lies ahead.

We have heard from the Committee on Climate Change this week that while Scotland continues to make good progress towards meeting its ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets, much still needs to be done in the renewable heat and transport sectors.

Recent changes to the way renewable energy is funded saw one of Scotland’s five offshore wind farms securing a contract to sell the power it generates in February but another, in the Moray Firth, was denied that funding and must now re-apply. Meanwhile those offshore wind projects closest to Edinburgh, in the Firth of Forth, still face the uncertainty of a judicial review into their planning permissions.

Onshore, wind, hydro and solar all face uncertainty over funding, with a review of the way they are supported set to prove contentious after the general election.

These big issues show why bringing together all those involved in the industry is so important: to reflect on the progress made and to map out a future which tackles the challenges faced by the sector head-on. Only by doing that can we continue to deliver the core purposes of the renewable energy sector – investment and jobs across Scotland, reduced carbon emissions to tackle climate change, and increased energy security.

• Niall Stuart is chief executive of Scottish Renewables