Scotland’s “Energy Strategy and Just Transition plan” is a disaster in the making.
SUPPOSE THAT SCOTLAND’S CO2 emissions fell tomorrow to zero i.e. that, at midnight, the country ceased to exist. Then according to the “Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change” (MAGICC), based on the latest IPCC climate models, the reduction in the Earth’s temperature in 2100 would be undetectable.1
Motivated by the moral necessity and urgency of this achievement, the Scottish Government is proposing a novel energy policy—its “Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan”.2
This newsletter reviews its major themes and their implications, and considers briefly the probability of success of the Scottish Government implementing it.
In 2022, due to an insufficient quantity of wind and sun, Scotland’s current collection of wind and solar energy scavenging devices failed to generate about 70% of their nameplate capacity.3
Recent exhaustive statistical and econometric analysis of wind generation in Scotland by Edinburgh University shows that it is uneconomic, and destined for taxpayer bailout.4
Under the Scottish Government’s novel energy strategy, wind and solar energy scavenging devices are to be greatly expanded.
Hydrogen, an energy carrier that squanders in waste heat a gigawatt of power generation for every gigawatt it carries, is elevated in the Scottish Government’s understanding of energy to the category of a fuel, and also greatly expanded.
Hydrocarbon and nuclear—actual fuels—provide the energy to manufacture and endlessly replace wind turbines and solar panels. They also, in Scotland, provide the power sources that run under all conditions to ensure continuity of energy supply during Scotland’s frequent sunless and windless conditions. These are to be discontinued.
Like all advanced economies, Scotland cannot tolerate even a small measure of power supply fluctuation. Without firm dispatchable thermal standby generation capacity to smooth supply fluctuation, the eventual daily ~40GW amplitude power fluctuation resulting from the proposed expansion of weather dependent electrical generation must be adapted for use in some other way. This will be provided by some form of 180+ day, grid-scale electricity storage—a technical challenge for which no precedent exists, and therefore no cost estimate is available.5
No technology candidate for grid scale battery storage technology exists, either today or in the foreseeable future. It occupies a prominent role in The Scottish Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.
Converting surplus energy to hydrogen for storage and use at grid scale is unprecedented, wasteful, and fraught with risk. 50% of Scotland’s proposed new intermittent generation capacity, installed at a capital cost of around £26 billion, will be wasted in converting its output to hydrogen.
Hydrogen embrittles pipework, renders conventional valves ineffective and, unlike domestic gas, self-ignites under catastrophic decompression. Quantifying the risks of transporting it in bulk on Scottish roads and deploying it as a substitute for domestic gas in Scotland’s densely populated housing estates might be an exciting 10 year research project at the UK Government’s Spadeadam industrial hazard testing facility (“…the remoteness of the area is key to their operations” – Wikipedia”).
But, informed by what the Scottish Government claims is the need for “the fastest possible” transition, it will bypass thorough safety testing and impose live hydrogen trials on Scotland’s citizens. Hydrocarbon gas is to be phased out of Scottish homes from 2030.
Energy densities in energy storage sites located next to Scotland’s towns and cities required by the Scottish Government’s reckless abandonment of thermal standby generation capacity will be measured in millions of tonnes of TNT—a risk for which 12 feet thick reinforced concrete containment domes are installed around nuclear facilities to manage. These risks are entirely unrecognised by Scotland’s current planning processes (or citizens).
The wind turbines, which real-world data shows reach the end of their economic life after only 11 years, will be endlessly resupplied from factories in China powered by coal generation plants larger, and very much dirtier, than the recently blown up one they replace.
The cost of adaptive storage, the cost of the new transmission and distribution infrastructure required by dramatically increased electrification of Scotland’s relatively sparsely populated areas, and the cost of Carbon Capture, are not factored into current estimates of Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE). These are vast. Grid scale battery storage, for example, has an implied cost measured in trillions of pounds, and drives LCOE from £50/MWh to over £600/MWh.
Apparently unaware of the role of nuclear and gas in maintaining continuity of supply, and the prohibitive cost of electricity storage as a substitute, the Scottish Government confidently demands that the UK Government “break the link between the price of electricity and the cost of gas to help realise the benefits of the low costs [sic] of renewable electricity”.
The policy proposal cites a number of other benefits that it thinks will accrue in addition to the negligible reduction in the Earth’s temperature.
Electric vehicles can’t plough snow or fields, harvest corn, empty buckets, excavate ore, raise wind-turbine masts, or perform any other economic task for which “grunt” is required. Notwithstanding, from 2030, diesel and petrol engines will be prohibited. Car kilometers are to be “reduced”—possibly, by fining us if we travel from our home more than a permitted distance. 6
The Scottish Government will impose further catastrophic environmental damage on the non-OECD countries where millions of tonnes of toxic water and ores are processed to manufacture the EV batteries it is mandating. It will overlook the human rights violations endemic to China’s “clean energy industry”. These will have the benefit of promoting what it calls “A Just Transition”—supposedly, a socialist framework for ensuring “a fairer, greener future for all”.7
Our security of supply is to be further enhanced by transferring energy generation from domestically produced oil and gas to mechanically unreliable, weather dependent energy scavenging devices containing thousands of points of failure that are contingent on the supply of rare resources controlled by China—which the US states it will declare war on if it invades Taiwan.8
These weather dependent energy scavenging devices require oil for, amongst many other things, the manufacture of their advanced composite materials. A leading energy consultancy records the collapse in 2020 to an 80 year low of replacement oil discovery volumes, and estimates that Western oil firms now have around 15 years of remaining economic oil reserves.9
It is under these circumstances that the Scottish Government is further enhancing the security of Scotland’s energy supply by discontinuing onshore and offshore conventional and unconventional oil and gas exploration.
To reinforce this enhancement, noting “the damage done by the de-industrialisation of central belt communities in the 1980’s”, the Scottish Government is irreversibly disbanding the North East’s oil and gas industry communities and, with them, their 50 years of institutional knowledge of oil and gas operations.
These will be replaced with communities based on livelihoods sustained by a “clean energy industry”. The growth of this imaginary industry is funded with the imaginary capital (a.k.a. “quantitive easing”) excreted in the response—ironically—to the energy contraction that triggered the ongoing 2008 Great Financial Crash. During this time, UK national debt has risen from 60% to over 100% of Gross Domestic Product, exceeded only by the public sector pension deficit (a proxy for the replacement of real industries in the global economy by imaginary ones), which has risen to more than £2 trillion.10
As evidence of the sustainability of the policy of funding imaginary industries through the indefinite expansion of imaginary capital (for which, like much of this policy, no precedent exists in human history), the Scottish Government informs us that it has already allocated £5 billion of its record budget deficit to what it refers to as “the Net Zero Economy”.
Winter excess death in the UK’s cold Northern European climate is already around 25,000 a year.11
Any prolonged interruption of winter energy supply created by the failure of this policy, or further escalation of cost, will plausibly result in the deaths of thousands more of our most vulnerable fellow citizens. The magnitude and uncertainty of the implied costs, coupled to the scale of the energy contraction that this policy deliberately seeks to accelerate, could trigger the collapse of our financial system.
Irreversible impairment of either our energy or financial systems would have a catastrophic impact on the welfare of Scotland’s citizens. Few have expressed any desire, much less informed consent, for risk on the scale proposed for such little benefit.
Yet the project, representing a scope of unprecedented scale, cost, pace, and technical uncertainty, will be overseen by a Government that is currently struggling to procure two relatively modest ferries for less than the cost that other governments can procure 34 ferries—due to cost overruns associated with the attempt to employ novel technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.12
As evidence of the extent to which the Scottish Government and its advisers have become unmoored from physical reality by the climate catastrophe hypothesis, it’s a document that is fascinating to read, and alarming to contemplate.
After reflecting on it, you may care to offer your feedback, either to the department that compiled it, or your political representative,13 or on social media.
I’d welcome your thoughts below, in advance of future essays examining in closer detail the comparably alarming Scottish and UK “Net Zero Energy” policies.
2 Scottish Government. 2023. ‘Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan’. https://www.gov.scot/publications/draft-energy-strategy-transition-plan/documents/
4 Hughes, Gordon. 2020. ‘Wind Power Economics – Rhetoric and Reality’. https://www.ref.org.uk/ref-blog/365-wind-power-economics-rhetoric-and-reality.
5 Lyon, Richard. 2023. ‘Wind energy is cheaper than fossil fuel! (Batteries not included)’. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/renewable-electricity-now-cheaper-than-fossil-fuel-33-richard-lyon/
6 Spiked. 2022. “The madness of the ‘15-minute city’”. https://www.spiked-online.com/2022/10/25/the-madness-of-the-15-minute-city/
7 Scottish Government. 2022. “Just Transition Commission”. https://www.gov.scot/groups/just-transition-commission/
8 FT. 2022. “Dangerous fatalism about a US-China war”. https://www.ft.com/content/457d8f06-a1cf-43d2-944c-90b5a48e66f9
9 Rystad Energy. 2021. “Big Oil Could See Proven Reserves Run out in Less than 15 Years as Output Is Not Replaced by Discoveries”. https://web.archive.org/web/20210511193735/https://www.rystadenergy.com/newsevents/news/press-releases/big-oil-could-see-proven-reserves-run-out-in-less-than-15-years-as-output-is-not-replaced-by-discoveries/
10 Pensions Expert. 2022. “Public sector pension liabilities break £2tn with 16% surge”. https://www.pensions-expert.com/DB-Derisking/Public-sector-pension-liabilities-break-2tn-with-16-surge?ct=true
11 AgeUK. 2016. “Excess winter deaths: a chilling reminder of how the cold affects older people” https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-news/archive/excess-winter-deaths-are-a-chilling-reminder-of-how-the-cold-affects-older-people/