The issue of whether the Scottish Government should include new generation nuclear power in its energy policy was explored in a debate about Scotland building a world-class energy industry.

The Scottish Government should reconsider its current energy policies if Scotland is to have an enviable energy industry, the audience decided at a debate in Edinburgh.

The debate, hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering in association with a number of Scottish institutions, explored the economics of Scotland’s energy policy and narrowly rejected the motion that “Scotland’s energy industry will be the envy of the world”.

Speaking against the motion, Dame Sue Ion FREng, Visiting Professor at Imperial College, London, said: “Scotland’s attitude to nuclear energy is schizophrenic. Its government is happy to support life extension of the existing two reactors but has vetoed the planning process for any new units.

“Notwithstanding the immense opportunity lost for Scottish construction, engineering and manufacturing jobs, this is like saying ‘we are happy to support repair of our ancient customised Ford Cortina that requires lots of attention to keep it on the road, has no air bags, old brake systems and is costly in fuel terms to run,’ versus buying a new, internationally available, high standard and more economical car.”

She questioned Scottish politicians’ view that wind and wave power could alone supply Scotland’s needs, pointing to the experience of Denmark, which imports nuclear and hydro-electric power while exporting wind energy in times of plenty at low prices. She outlined the “immense engineering challenges” associated with delivery of offshore wind farms and marine energy technologies in very aggressive environments.

Dr John Constable, Director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said that current Scottish energy policy will result in “very large increases in the cost of electricity to the consumer”. Also speaking against the motion, he said that subsidised renewable energy could cost £10bn per year until 2020, which is almost 1% of UK GDP, describing it as “a very big barnacle on the hull of the UK economy”.

He said: “The UK’s policy is a wager on the price of energy in 10 years’ time; but it is a wager in which government seems to have no confidence. If it did, it would be simpler and more economically efficient to allow the prospect of rising prices to drive adoption, rather than using notoriously inefficient and innovation-supressing subsidies and mandates to force premature deployment to meet arbitrary targets.”

Scotland plans to have eight gigawatts or more of wind generated energy in 2020, requiring a subsidy of around £2bn per year for 20 years, which Dr Constable said would be a heavy burden on Scottish consumers and reliant on trading with the rest of Britain, which he said effectively would mean that English and Welsh consumers would have to subsidise Scottish wind power.

Speaking in support of the motion, Dr Simon Harrison CEng FIET, Visiting Professor, University of Southampton, pointed out that the motion was about energy industry, of which energy policy is only a part. He highlighted the importance of industrial capacity and praised the diverse portfolio of advantageous energy projects being built in Scotland.

“Scotland has scale to do big things but is small enough to pull together as a community,” he said. “Energy policy is being deftly manipulated by the government to build a comparative advantage. Not building more nuclear facilities in Scotland allows industry to focus on other technologies, while nuclear is still supported by Scotland’s existing industrial capacity.”

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Scottish Power Professor of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at University of Edinburgh, also speaking for the motion, said that Scotland is building on its energy record. Aberdeen is currently the second oil capital in the world and Scotland is now positioning itself to meet the challenges of planetary changes.

Scotland currently produces 31% of its electrical energy from renewable sources and Professor Haszeldine said that wind power was the most sensible place to start, with CSS and wave and tidal projects to follow. Communities would benefit from wind farms as half a gigawatt was already community-owned, with the sector generating 11,500 jobs, he added.

Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing MSP, who made an introductory speech at the debate, said that Scotland has a credible and deliverable energy policy. “The fact remains that oil costs $125 a barrel and a barrel of air costs nothing. With the success of engineers, we will overcome challenges such as storage, then we will see the costs coming down,” he said.

The lively debate was attended by MSPs, policy makers, representatives from industry and academia and members of the public. The motion was defeated by a small margin, with 52% of people disagreeing with the motion that Scotland’s energy industry will be the envy of the world.

Listen to the audio recording on raeng.tv

Notes for editors

  1. The debate was organised by The Royal Academy of Engineering in association with The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, the Engineering Policy Group and Scottish Engineering.
  2. Gordon Masterton FREng FRSE, chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering panel in Scotland, chaired the debate.
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Iffat Memon at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0653