Scotland Saw Clean Energy Generation Grow by a Fifth in 2009

In the United States, California’s requirement that utilities generate 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2033 is often hailed as an ambitious sustainable business goal for others to replicate. However even this goal pales when compared to the renewable energy targets of many nations in Western Europe. Countries like Scotland have not only set goals meant to rapidly transition them to a renewable energy future—they appear on-track to hit or exceed those goals while creating thousands of jobs. This week’s news that Scotland increased it renewable power generation by a fifth in 2009 is just another indicator of how sustainable business is booming in this small country.

Last year more than 25% of Scotland’s electricity generation came from wind and other clean energy sources, even as total energy production climbed 3%. According to environment and climate change minister Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland is in good shape to meet its goal of generating 31% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011. By 2020 Scotland plans to run on 80% renewable energy—a goal that leaves every state clean energy standard in the US in the dust. And by 2025 the country plans to have a 100% clean electricity grid. These renewable energy goals are the most ambitious of any industrialized country in the world.

Many of Scotland’s most important sustainable business ventures are occurring along the coasts. The country is looking to create 28,000 jobs through a massive effort to develop offshore wind resources. Scotland is also investigating wave and tidal power projects that could further boost its renewable energy output. Unlike some state and national governments, Scotland also counts hydropower projects as clean or renewable energy. However since most sites suitable for large-scale hydropower have already been developed, it seems unlikely big dams will account for much new electricity generation in the future.

So what led to the sustainable business boom now engulfing Scotland? Part of it is simple economics: as in many other parts of the world, fossil fuel prices have been rising in Scotland, while renewable energy looks more and more cost effective. Yet in contrast to the United States where many lawmakers are reluctant to abandon coal and oil, the Scottish government has taken the initiative and is encouraging big investments in wind and other renewables. To take just one example I’ve written about previously, Scotland is devoting seventy million British pounds to help grow offshore wind projects.

As one of the countries that has already come the farthest in the transition to a clean energy future, Scotland should serve as a model for the United States and other economies to follow. Scotland is creating jobs in sustainable business to help it through the recession while at the same time reducing carbon emissions. In so doing, Scotland has also positioned itself to be a leader in the global clean tech revolution.

Photo credit: Lews Castle UHI