Adrian submits evidence and comments on the Scottish Government Net Zero Policy

Earlier this year the Scottish Government published its “Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan” to take Net Zero policy forward in Scotland. Adrian contributed written evidence to this call as part of a deposition from the University of St Andrews Centre for Energy Ethics, of which Adrian is a member. Adrian and his Colleague Nick Gardiner provided insight and comments on the geological aspects of the policy.

Adrian Finch’s team has been looking for sources of new critical metals across the world and seeking to understand how they have formed.

The full text of Adrian’s component to the submission is given below. This was edited by the Centre for Energy Ethics team and integrated into comments from others from the team.

Scottish Government Draft Energy Strategy Transition Plan

Comments by Adrian Finch, Professor of Geology, University of St Andrews

I am addressing the following questions invited by the review in Annex B

Chapter 1 – Introduction and Vision 

1. What are your views on the vision set out for 2030 and 2045? Are there any changes you think should be made? 

Chapter 5: Creating the conditions for a net zero energy system 

40. What additional action could the Scottish Government or UK Government take to support security of supply in a net zero energy system? 

41. What other actions should the Scottish Government (or others) undertake to ensure our energy system is resilient to the impacts of climate change?

I draw attention to the following discussion points in the plan.

  1. Access to Raw Materials.

The green energy transition will only take place if there is access to the raw materials (e.g. Nd, Li, Co, Fe, Cu) that underpin the technologies. Whereas EU and UK-wide analysis have placed security of supply to raw materials as a central issue, it is striking that Scotland’s assessment does not mention this concern at all. As the document itself states (p.3) “maximising opportunities for growing the net zero energy sector… will be critical to a just transition”, yet there is no policy to ensure that a company basing itself in Scotland has access to the raw materials it will need. For example, the failure of the UK company Britishvolt (a battery company supporting electric vehicle production) highlighted the absence of domestic supplies of Lithium and how access to raw materials is an advantage to being based in e.g. the US and China. Scotland produces none of the raw materials that are implicit in the energy strategy. Scotland rules out nuclear as a carbon-free energy source without explaining why.

  • Energy Vulnerability

There is no recognition in the document that Scotland has historically had a privileged position as a producer of oil and gas, being able to generate energy independently of other countries. The green transition will bring to Scotland a fundamental dependence on others for the raw supplies needed to turn its wind and hydro into energy. Scotland is entering a period of energy vulnerability, in which it will be entirely dependent on the good will of other countries for imports of raw parts and materials. Whereas I find discussion on Scotland’s vulnerability to periodic weather events, I find no comment on its vulnerability to export restrictions elsewhere in the globe (resource nationalism) or its vulnerability to interruptions of the supply chain through global conflict (cf. Russian gas).

  • “Just Energy Transition” and the Export the Carbon, Social and Environmental Footprints

By importing all the raw materials for its green energy transition, Scotland effectively outsources the carbon, social and environmental footprints of its green energy strategy. For example, the smelting of iron elsewhere in the world uses coal that forms carbon dioxide; the carbon footprint and environmental damage of rare earth mining have been highlighted. By outsourcing all its raw materials, Scotland loses the ability to trace and minimise the impact of its own economic growth on other parts of the world. It is not that mining for, and production of, raw materials cannot be done in an environmentally and socially responsible way, rather by buying all its raw materials, Scotland loses the ability to account for and minimise these impacts. Because the carbon, environmental and social impacts of these activities occur outside Scotland’s jurisdiction, I do not see them as outside the “Just Energy Transition”, but I could find no mention of this issue in Chapter 2. By making partnerships with overseas suppliers of raw materials with best practice, Scotland can confirm that best practice in mining is being followed.

  • Geothermal

Geothermal energy is notable by its absence from future energy plans, although strangely expertise in geothermal energy is identified as a key Scottish export (p.52). Scotland has several granites and mine-workings that might provide local, rural geothermal energy. Old mine-workings are often within areas of high-unemployment, and expansion in geothermal potentially provides implicit feedback between investment and deprived areas in a way that does not exist for other energy sources.

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