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Could electric cars help Scotland achieve independence? The Green Piece

Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The Green Piece

Scotland has some really ambitious targets for reducing CO2 emissions and for increasing the use of renewable energy sources. But could such policies help Scotland help it achieve independence from the UK?

Charge Your Car public charging pointJust days after Scotland outlined a possible transition to independence, with a referendum planned for 2014- the country revealed plans to install an electric car charging point at least every 50 miles on major roads, thanks to a fund of £2.6 million (see story). This will be complemented by free charging points for homeowners and charging points at leisure centres, places of work, local authority car parks and ferry terminals.

While these two things might seem unrelated, plans to boost the use and uptake of electric cars are all part of Scotland’s plans to improve energy independence, strengthen its energy sector and boost its wider economy, reduce GHG emissions, and help the country become a leading power in the production of renewable fuels.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets targets for the Scottish Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050 (compared to the baselines for the relevant emissions in 1990/1995)-that’s ambitious stuff-and is complemented by a target to completely decarbonise road transport by 2050.

Tide and wind

Scotland is fortunate that it is blessed with a lot of natural resources which will power the country’s newly independent state, should the referendum vote in favour of independence next year. It’s not just coal and gas which the country has an abundance of. Wave and tidal, wind and biomass energy are all resources which could keep the lights on, the cars running and homes warm.

Offshore wind is already a key supplier to Scotland's electricity grid

Of course, it is not just about independence, current policies tie in with similar objectives across the whole of the UK and Europe too. It’s just that Scotland is lucky to have greater natural resources to call on, coupled with a smaller population than England, making it easier to meet energy needs through renewables. This and that the public appetite in Scotland for renewables is strong. Research last year, by Friends of the Earth Scotland (found here) showed that nine out of ten Scots (88 per cent) support plans to reduce fossil fuel use and to increase the part renewable sources play in electricity production.

Renewable energy can be used to power electric cars like these Renault TwizysThe study also showed that the majority of Scots (73 per cent) believe that their household electricity is already produced in Scotland, and 82 per cent think that it should be produced in Scotland in the future.

That might sound surprising elsewhere in the UK, but figures show 35 per cent of Scottish electricity demand was indeed met by renewables in 2011, much of it from native sources-beating its own target for the year by about 4 per cent.

To put that in perspective, in the UK as a whole, around 11 per cent of electricity demand was met by renewables in the same year.

By 2015, it is hope that half of Scotland’s electricity will come from renewables.

What’s more, last month, Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond announced a target to cut emissions from the electricity sector from 347 grams of CO2 per kWh in 2010, to 50g CO2/kWh by 2030.

An electric story of independence

When it comes to targets for electric cars, Scotland has already been named a ‘Plugged-in Place’ under a Department for Transport’s scheme, which has been instrumental in the introduction of some 80 public charging points across the  country.

A Nissan LEAF electric cars roams free on the Hebrides

But it is not just about grants from central government that demonstrates the seriousness which the country is taking its battle to decarbonise its transport. While the Plugged-in Places scheme has a £30 million funding to split between eight different places and regions across the UK (about £3.75 million for each place) to fund electric car charging facilities, the Scottish Government has added an extra £2.6 million all for its self-a big extra injection for a country with just 5.2 million people (compared to the ten-times bigger population of 53 million in England alone).

Transport Scotland also recently joined up with Charge Your Car network to create a UK-wide network of charging points that will stretch beyond the border and make it easier for EV drivers to roam where they wish, and encourage EV-driving tourists in England to cross the border (see story).

The hybrid ferry, Hallaig at Port Glasgow with Deputy First Minister Nicola SturgeonOver the past two years, the Scottish Government has also invested over £8 million in electric vehicles and infrastructure, enabling Scotland’s public services to purchase around 270 low carbon vehicles (LCVs).

The country also aims to become a leading hydrogen economy, with a fund of £3.3 million to purchase hydrogen buses in Aberdeen (see story) and has already become the first country in the world to run hybrid ferries (see story).

Going solo

As one of those annoying English types, it isn’t really for me to say whether Scotland should vote for independence, but by focusing on its energy sector and cleaning up Map of Scotlandits transport, this undoubtedly will help Scotland strengthen the argument for going solo. With a strong, independent energy sector, Scotland will find standing alone much easier as a strong energy sector will be to the benefit of all other business sectors too. In achieving this independent and renewably-fuelled energy mix, it won’t just be the rest of the UK that Scotland kisses goodbye to, but reliance on unstable resources supplied from some of the world’s most volatile regions.

With amble land and resources for generating renewables, it might well be overcrowded England that feels most keenly the loss of our proud, northern cousins whose cleaned-up energy sector and electric cars will power its economy to new strengths.

Think I’m packing my suitcase and jumping the border before it is too late.

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Faye Sunderland

Filed under: Electric cars, The Green Piece

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