By Jeremy Sainsbury, Director, Natural Power, and Director, Scottish
RURAL post offices have long been a lightning rod for changes taking place
across society. Easier access to finance online, the rise of the direct
debit and the increasing accessibility of car ownership rendered many
Rural businesses, as a rule, are often the first to feel the ripples from
wider changes in society. That will be true, too, of the changes under way
in our energy system – and the implications could run far deeper than the
loss of a local post office.
Tackling climate change means cutting the amount of carbon emitted by all
parts of our economy.
The key to affordable and comfortable rural living will be the way in which
National Grid, the Scottish Government, councils, communities and the
renewable energy industry plan and deploy clean energy and its supporting
infrastructure in the next 15 years.
Renewables now provide the equivalent of 69 per cent of the electricity
consumed in Scotland. To meet the challenge of the next decade, large parts
of the transport and heating sectors will also need to decarbonise.
Early adoption of integrated energy systems – as in Orkney, for example,
where tidal and wave power, wind, solar, energy storage and more all work
together – has already placed rural areas at the forefront of the new
energy system. It’s time to capitalise on the benefits of that and plan the
infrastructure needed for a vibrant and expanding rural economy.
We have learned from the past that access to gas, affordable fuels and good
communications hold back the ability to start and grow businesses.
We all hear about the ways in which cities encourage electric vehicles, but
few have stopped to think what this will mean for the rural economy.
By 2032 at least 30 per cent of all cars are likely to be electric. The
range of these advanced EVs will be more than 400 miles on a single charge.
New EVs will be cheaper than their fossil fuel equivalents.
What will this mean?
Fragile rural petrol stations will close. Tourists will not come to
locations where they cannot charge their cars. Heating oil and gas will
become expensive as volume drops and distribution charges grow.
It is time for the renewable energy sector, in which I’ve been employed for
three decades, to work with government and councils to identify the needs
of future rural communities, then engage to explain the options.
One route for heating, for example, is increased deployment of heat pumps,
which use a small amount of electricity to compress warmth in the
environment, enabling it to be used to heat a building.
It is clear that a town with a traditional 11,000-volt power line will
struggle to meet the new loads placed upon it by EVs and air- or
ground-source heating systems. If that line requires an upgrade, who pays?
One solution is to plan a series of renewable energy projects close to, but
not on top of, rural towns and villages. They can bring the upgraded lines
with them and provide local EV charging points and much more.
When a local community can relate a spinning turbine or a sunny day with
cheap heat and transport, the partnership between local generation and a
vibrant rural economy will have arrived.
To plan this and then deliver new infrastructure in a very competitive
market is a difficult task.
If we start now, we’ll provide Scotland’s future rural economy with an
enormous advantage, both economically, socially and environmentally. If we
delay, our children’s children will look back at the lack of vision
displayed by the decision makers of today with disbelief.