How will the Highlands and Islands impact on developing Scotland as a Global Green Energy leader?

That is the question that the Scotsman Green Energy Conference in Inverness on 8th June is seeking to address.

It is true to say that the Highlands and Islands is punching above its weight in terms of the contribution the region is likely to make when it comes to reaching ambitious net zero targets by 2045.

Companies and communities in the HIE area are already demonstrating the ability and ambition to be recognised as low carbon exemplarsHIE, as a public sector organisation with extensive networks that reach across the globe, is helping to accelerate these ambitions and build on the existing capability by facilitating the transition to a circular economy.  

It is well-known by now that Scotland’s renewable energy sector accounts for 98.6 per cent of electricity consumption in Scotland in 2020.  The Highlands and Islands contributed almost 40% of Scotland’s installed renewable electricity capacity in 2020.  In the same year, the Highland Council area was top in the UK for the generation of onshore wind and hydro power, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Beyond serving Scotland, the Highlands and Islands have the potential to be a European powerhouse in the sector.  

The Highlands and Islands region is home to some of Europe’s best resources and is internationally recognised for the advancement of offshore renewable technologies, not least due to the unique offering of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC).  EMEC will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year and has evolved impressively to take advantage of developments in technology and policy.  

Initially the facility started life as a wave and tidal energy test centre and now is involved with significant energy systems projects as well as cutting-edge hydrogen projects.

Also to be celebrated in the marine energy sector is Wave Energy Scotland. Borne out of the desire of Scottish Government to find innovative solutions to the technical challenges facing the wave energy sector, WES has funded 120 contracts, committed £48m and been involved with 275 separate organisations, across 18 different countries since its inception in 2014.

HIE will continue to champion the marine renewables sector and firmly believe it has an important role to play in developing world-leading technology for deployment in a domestic setting, but importantly, for export globally too.

Surely the next ‘big thing’ for our region is the announcement of a 25GW leasing round for offshore wind in Scottish waters.  ScotWind has the potential to be genuinely transformational for our region.  It is anticipated that every 1GW of development will translate into £1bn of investment into the economy and supply chain.  Some of these projects will touch our most remote and rural areas and have a critical role to play in the decarbonisation of our region and indeed Scotland as a whole.

HIE is working collaboratively to understand – via the Supply Chain Development Statements required as part of the leasing process by Crown Estate Scotland – the requirements of the project developers.  This will help us to engage with the local supply chain, ports and harbours to consider how best we can grow capability and capacity and ensure our businesses and communities are strategically positioned to maximise the benefits from these developments.

Work is already underway to provide world-class facilities for the industry with the announcement in December 2021 of a planned £110m offshore wind tower factory at Nigg, that will create 400 manufacturing jobs.  This will become the UK’s largest rolling mill for offshore wind turbine towers.  It’s a great example of the energy transition that is so often spoken about in action: a facility built for the oil industry in the 70s, repurposed for renewables.  

Meanwhile, Buckie Harbour in Moray has been selected as the long-term operations and maintenance base for Ocean Winds’ Moray West offshore windfarm in the outer Moray Firth.  Buckie is a traditional fishing port which has seen some tough times, but this investment will create 60 well-paid, stable jobs for the next 25 years or so.  We’ve already seen the benefits such a facility can bring having witnessed the transformation of Wick Harbour thanks to the Beatrice Wind project.

There is so much to be excited about in the renewables sector in the Highlands and Islands – I’ve barely scratched the surface here.  We’ll be delighted to see you at the conference to discuss it in more detail.

Sign up for the conference here

Elain MacRae, Head of Energy Strategy, Highlands and Islands Enterprise