Climate Change Juan Cole

Scotland Reaches Green Landmark

In just under 10 years, the country has pulled off a green energy miracle.
[Mitch Weisburgh / CC BY 2.0]

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

In 2011, Scotland’s government, urged on by visionaries like Richard Dixon, set itself the ambitious goal to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. At that time, it only only got about a fourth from clean energy sources, and a lot of that was hydro.

The report card is in for 2020 and Scotland generated 97.4% of its electricity demand from renewables last year, just a whisker less than the 100% goal.

Scotland will host the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in a few months, and is well placed to assert climate leadership.

Scotland no longer has a coal plant, and its one natural gas plant is under-utilized and seems likely to close in a few years.

Some 70% of Scottish electricity now comes from onshore wind farms. The rest is from hydroelectricity (15.8%), offshore wind and solar. Scotland still has vast hydroelectric potential and some of it may be used for pumped hydro storage (you use wind to drive water uphill and hold it there until you need it, then release it to make electricity when the wind dies down).

I’m glad to be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that Scotland is the first industrialized country to reach this near-100% renewables landmark for electricity production mainly from wind and solar.

Norway gets 98% of its electricity from renewables, but heavily depends on hydroelectricity. Ironically, both Scotland and Norway are oil states, but they nevertheless have made a push to drop hydrocarbons.

Offshore wind is also beginning to generate substantial electricity, and Scotland is constructing two gigawatts more of it right now. Some 14 gigawatts in permits for further renewables have been granted by the government.

The Seagreen wind farm off Scotland will be finished in 2022 and will generate enough electricity for 1.5 million households (see video below). Actually, since the households are more or less covered, maybe it can heat the homes as people switch to electric furnaces.

Electricity is only one kind of energy that a country consumes. Transportation by internal combustion vehicles is typically responsible for about 28% of carbon dioxide emissions, and the heating commercial and residential buildings accounts for 29%. Scotland now wants to press ahead on these other fronts.

Scotland now gets about a quarter of its over-all energy demand from renewables, Its leaders want to double that to 50% in 2030.

At the moment, only about ten percent of Scotland’s heating demand is met by renewables. So electrifying heating and transportation and increasing renewables capacity are the next big steps.

I should declare my interest that one of my grandfathers was a McIlwee, and so I am especially proud of the responsible Scottish politicians who have shown the world how greening a G20 economy can be done, in short order. There is a lot more to be done, and social equity to be achieved by transitioning oil workers to other good-paying jobs.

Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.


  1. You left out the part that tells how much US fracked gas is imported to Scotland… Please write an addendum piece with full disclosure.

    1. How much of that is ethane to manufacture plastics rather than to generate electricity?

  2. What?! This article is simply incorrect. For the arithmetically challenged, 97.4 is less than 100.
    Norway produced 98 percent renewable electricity but doesn’t count because some was hydroelectricity. Is wind power somehow more worthy than water power?
    Costa Rica produced 99.7 percent renewable electricity in 2020 and supplies power to much of Central America – a population larger than either Scotland’s or Norway’s.
    All 3 countries deserve congratulations for their efforts but none have achieved the 100 percent mark touted in the article.

  3. Good to hear that my mother’s birthplace is leading the switch to renewable energy sources…thank you for this and the many past posts for thoughts to chew on!

  4. This is from The Scotsman, 2nd January 2014.
    5 million Scottish trees felled for wind farms.
    The first two paras read:
    “Forestry Commission statistics reveal that about five million trees – almost one for every person in Scotland – have been cut down to clear space for turbines in the past six years but less than a third of them have been replaced.”
    “Of the 2,510 hectares stripped of woodland to make way for turbines since 2007, just 792 hectares were reforested after construction was completed.”
    There’s a strong falsehood in the The Scotsman’s notion that a tree can be replaced.
    I too have Scottish heritage (the Douglas clan) and I find this appalling.

  5. The ships that transported the wind turbines from China created more pollution than the entire country of Scotland has in the last century. Wind turbines use massive amounts of oil in their manufacturing and use large amounts of oil to operate. They kill a lot of birds and as Graeme sail they damage the environment because of the deforestation need to set up the sites. Norway’s Hydroelectric system is far greener than Scotland’s wind farms. Not to mention these wind turbine have a useful life of about 20 years.

  6. A very good article despite the criticism. Good to hear about Costa Rica and Norway as well.
    Good that Scotland achieved its target despite needing to do the same in heat and transport.
    Often such examples inspire others, and build confidence for the next steps.
    Imagine the US doing such things instead of genocides for the MIC, the zionists, and the rich!
    What else but genocides for bribes, could so well suit our corrupted former democracy?

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