Energy Future

Oil's dramatic price plunge sees Scotland turn to renewable energy

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Scotland turns to renewable energy
Scotland turns to renewable energy

Renewables are fast becoming a key component of Scotland's energy mix as the country contemplates weak oil prices and declining production at its North Sea reserves.

The government there has big ambitions, and says it is aiming for renewables to generate the "equivalent of 100 percent of Scotland's gross annual electricity consumption by 2020."

"The oil and gas industry is having a pretty rough time globally because of the fall in oil price," Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish minister for business, innovation and energy, told CNBC's Energy Future.

"It has meant that we're having to move to an environment where we live with lower oil prices, perhaps for a longer period than we'd anticipated."

Just Scotland's luck, then, that the country is blessed with an abundance of onshore and offshore wind energy, as well as other renewable sources such as hydro, solar photovoltaics and plant biomass.

"It's a good time to be investing in renewables in Scotland," Wheelhouse said. "It's a really great coincidence of an economic need because of the challenge we face but also a really exciting opportunity. There is also the ability to transfer skills – from subsea, from oil and gas workers – into offshore wind, marine energy projects."

Another source being investigated is tidal. "Tidal is a global, untapped, clean, green source of energy," John Meagher, from Nova Innovation, said. "Tidal has the potential to create a multi-billion dollar industry," Meagher added.

Nova Innovation says it has deployed the world's first fully operational, commercial and grid connected tidal array in Shetland, a set of islands off the north coast of the Scottish mainland.

The potential of tidal energy is significant. In 2013, for example, the U.K. government said that wave and tidal stream energy had the potential to meet as much as 20 percent of the U.K.'s electricity demand.

While the potential of a tidal array such as the one in Shetland is undoubtedly exciting, its environmental impact still needs to be taken into consideration.

"Shetland's got a great resource for renewable energy – particularly wind and wave and tidal," Karen Hall, from Scottish Natural Heritage, said. "However, it's also got … a lot of protected species, a lot of designated sites," she added.

"With tidal arrays, it's still very early technology: We really don't know what the impacts are likely to be," Hall went on to explain. "But that's why monitoring of the devices when they're in the water… (is) really important at this stage."

For Scotland, the future looks bright, according to Wheelhouse. "The former first minister has said before that Scotland kind of won the natural lottery twice: We had oil and gas and now we've got renewables, and we're very fortunate to have that."