When “100% renewables” is not 100% renewable

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I believe it was Christopher Hitchens who suggested that you should always start the day with one thing that will annoy you as a check on whether you still have a pulse. For me, this is reading the Huffington Post. Today’s pleasure was finding them declaring the book Clean Break the Green Book of the year. An award that doesn’t exactly fill me with delight.

I could complain a little more about the inaccuracies in Clean Break, but will consider instead a sentence at the end of the Huffington Post piece.

Germany’s plan is not infallible, of course, nor is it alone in its goal to operate on 80 percent renewable power by 2050 — Scotland recently announced its intention to become 100 percent renewable by 2020.

This claim that Scotland is going to become 100% renewable by 2020 is palpable nonsense, yet this is not the first time it has been aired. Another noteable example of misrepresenting Scotland’s renewable ambitions was Bill McKibben once claiming a windfarm would “power 40% of Scotland”, when it was only 40% of houses.

Such claims are often followed by questions about why America cannot follow Scotland’s lead. It would be preferable if people first took some time to figure out what Scotland’s actual policies were, then they may be less enthusiastic about following its lead.

Let’s just boil Scotland’s policy down to what it actually is: produce two times more electricity than Scotland needs, and export half of it to England, with 50% of it coming from renewables. The 100% renewables claim washes only if you somehow label the renewables stuff Scottish, and the rest of it English. Fine accounting, you will agree, but I suspect the atmosphere could not give a damn either way.

This also distracts from the fact that the majority of Scotland’s emissions do not come from electricity in the first place. Even getting 100% of electricity from renewables would not get you half way there. Scotland’s policies on North Sea oil and gas also deserve a little attention. Every possible remaining drop of oil will be extracted, and burned. The government does not appear to consider leaving it in the ground an option. However, some American green commentators would have us believe that Scotland is somehow an example worth following. As with Germany’s over-praised Energiewende this complimentary view of Scotland shows just how dangerous an obsession with renewable power, and not fossil fuels, really is.


7 thoughts on “When “100% renewables” is not 100% renewable

    Jaap Langenbach said:
    December 22, 2012 at 11:12 am

    What’s wrong with trying to produce the equivalent of 100% of Scotlands electricity with renewable sources?


      Robert Wilson said:
      December 22, 2012 at 11:27 am


      All you are doing here is repeating a fundamentally misleading claim. Let’s imagine China said it was going 100% low carbon steel manufacturing, but it turned out this only referred to steel for domestic use. In this case we would not say “China is producing the equivalent of 100% of China’s steel using low carbon energy sources” would we.


    Robin Curtis said:
    December 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

    You might also want to check that they were talking about making steel using low carbon energy – and not talking about making low carbon steel using any old energy. Translation ?!


    Jaap Langenbach said:
    December 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Let’s stick to Scotland: I don’t know why Salmond thinkjs it is necessary to double the e-production to twice as much as Scotland needs. I suppose 100% can be done with much less “over-production”, esp. when RE will be cheaper than fossil fuels, We will soon get there. Building some storage capacity (they got some lakes up-hill !) will also help to diminish the (over)production of electricity with fossil fuels.


    Colin said:
    December 24, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Salmond knows that Scotland cannot rely on renewables all the time. Yet he knows that the majority of UK renewable resource is located in Scotland and will be subsidised by UK consumers (not just Scottish consumers). Thefore it makes sense to ramp up Scottish renewable production; while retaining non-renewable base-load production for security of supply.

    Unfortunately the SNP is opposed to new nuclear, with leaves them planning non-nuclear baseload. i.e. fossil fuel generation.

    The national planning framework makes this clearer. There are plans to upgrade existing fossil fuel powerstations; and also plans to build additional fossil fuel capaity; while also upgrading the Scotland-England interconnector to permit export of renewable electricity when it is available.

    Plans for non-nuclear (fossil) baseload:

    Plans for new coal powerstation at Hunterston:
    (Fortunately this has been delayed; and Hunterston nuclear plant has been given a 7 year life extension.)

    Plans for 3.2GW export interconnector:

    It is easy for a small country with large renewable resources to generate the equivalent of all of its electricity consumption from renewables if it has a much larger neighbour willing to subsidise the development and purchase the excess electricity.

    However this is not a global solution. By necessity, it only works for a small proportion of the whole. The remainder needs to be supplemented with nuclear or (in the case of Scotland’s policy) fossil.


    Cyril Matvech said:
    January 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Oh dear, oh dear oh dear! What an utter crock of bile filled hatred in this ignorant article echoed by the illinformed comments from those that digest this dross? Scots can produce 100% of their domestic electricity from green sources! The fact that Scotland also produces another 160% for export to energy poor England, does nothing to alter these facts. The notable changes will come when London is no longer able to penalise and punish Scottish production of low cost electricity with unfair tariffs (which are given as financial benefits for English producers) that serve to currently reduce Scottish electricity production. Scottish electricity exports may well see a massive increase to 400% when these harsh penalties are removed by independence. As for the nuclear base load nonsense, Scotland currently has dirty pollutive nuclear plants which are unable to run everyday due to leaks, repairs, faults, investigations, inspections, maintenance and upgrades. Nuclear power has never been efficient, viable or clean in any part of the world although building dirty plants in the north of Scotland to provide electricity security for England was an intolerable abuse against the Scots which will not continue post 2020! This 2nd consecutive unelected English government is now attempting to reduce it’s energy insecurity by swapping reliance on French dirty nuclear electricity for one where windfarms in Eire MAY give it cheaper power simply to threaten Scots with sanctions, will come back to bite them.


      Colin said:
      January 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      Cyril, it is not just that Scotland *can* export electricity to England; the point is that it *must* export large quantities of excess electricity if it is to supply the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewables. Renewables are intermittent – they generate too much some of the time; and too little at other times.

      Obviously this is not a globally viable solution – somewhere in the system variable renewables need a reliable partner. Small countries may be able to get away with over-producing electricity; but it is obvious that large countries need to produce a reliable, steady supply.

      The 100% renewable electricity target for Scotland is utter greenwash when the Scottish govt, and the SNP in particular, is relying upon fossil fuel revenue for economic viability post-independence.

      Scotland exports about 6 times as much energy as it consumes, and most of that exported energy is in the form of fossil fuel (oil and gas). Needless to say the SNP do not count those exported fossil emissions towards Scotland’s domestic total; yet they are willing to count exported renewable electricity towards their domestic total.

      The SNP’s antinuclear stance it entirely opportunistic. They oppose it simply because Wesminster supports it. It is transparently populist. Great politics; but appalling leadership.

      If the SNP genuinely believed that nuclear power was dangerous they would shut down Hunterston and Torness immediately, rather than supporting operating life-extensions. They know nuclear power is necessary. They know it is safe.


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