How can we develop an effective sustainable energy strategy that also ensures a just transition?

Recently the IET responded to a Scottish Government consultation on their vision and strategy for sustainable energy production and use, whilst also ensuring the benefits of transition to a green economy are shared widely and equitably.  This is certainly a very difficult nut to crack, for Scotland and for the other UK governments.

We think that Scotland needs to do more and work quickly to achieve its net zero vision.  Together, a range of technologies can provide holistic short to long-term economic and social benefits and minimise negative consequences.  The solutions are challenging, but they can help deliver a Just Transition and provide energy security and resilience.  Our key recommendations are as follows: 

  1. Keep the current vision targets. They are already challenging and need to remain achievable.
  2. Develop and implement a robust, whole system engineering plan for net zero across the energy spectrum. This will give greater understanding of how the vision, its ambitions, roadmaps and outputs can be best managed, taking account of the mix of sustainable energy sources, infrastructure, usage and capacity.  Without an integrated plan, siloed approaches can result in sub-optimal delivery.
  3. Provide political leadership and develop long-term cross-party commitment at international, national and local levels.
  4. Maintain Scotland’s energy resilience and security in its transition to net zero. Pragmatically this may involve a longer phasing out of fossil fuels, though it supports a Just Transition by mitigating against fuel poverty.
  5. Incentivise local green industrial initiatives by reviewing potential barriers such as administration, planning, regulation and funding. This can help create local jobs, provide well-paid careers and generate national economic benefits.  Where necessary, provide funding, especially for the early-stage industrial development of sustainable solutions.
  6. Provide the means to sustain interest in the STEM-related subjects of students from an early school age.
  7. Research the opportunities provided by CCUS, recognising its revenue generation potential.
  8. Provide financial support for sustainability initiatives by households that cannot afford net zero measures.

We recognise that some of these proposals may not be welcome, but we included them to be realistic. We think they are needed to catalyse political, industry, academic and societal buy-in, so as to meet energy needs cost-effectively and provide for a just transition, especially for lower socio-economic communities.

What are your thoughts?  For example Scotland has not included nuclear in its plans.  To what extent could that damage the strategy for sustainable energy?  Does it make a just transition significantly more difficult?

  • Public awareness around energy transition is a challenge. Awareness of it's impacts, needs and benefits, helps with adoption of new and revived energy systems. Adoption of the latest technology is a complex challenge that effects every stage of developing an effective technological structure for energy transition that is just.

    The lobby of fossil fuels is rampant in creating bottle necks for successful development of alternative energy systems that can ease transition; such as the hydrogen economy. 

  • Public awareness around energy transition is a challenge. Awareness of it's impacts, needs and benefits, helps with adoption of new and revived energy systems. Adoption of the latest technology is a complex challenge that effects every stage of developing an effective technological structure for energy transition that is just.

    The lobby of fossil fuels is rampant in creating bottle necks for successful development of alternative energy systems that can ease transition; such as the hydrogen economy. 

  • Another piece of fairly meaningless Green babble. As usual the fossil fuel lobby is blamed for the failure of alternative energy systems. This avoids having to accept that the demands of the Green lobby won’t actually work, especially in the demanded time scales.

    It is typical for the Green lobby to make demands but not offer any solutions ‘Just Stop Oil’ ‘Insulate Britain’. How? What is the cost? What resources are required? What is the EROEI? There is the rather mistaken view that there are infinite resources available for ‘Green’ things. Green jobs, especially well paid ones, are somehow a benefit and not a burden on the consumer.

    Hydrogen vehicles have been around for decades:

    1959 Allis Chalmers Fuel cell tractor. It worked, they plowed a field or two with it.

    2002 Mercedes Benz A class fuel cell. It was designed with a sandwich floor to make space for batteries and fuel cells.

    2005 BMW Hydrogen 7. It worked, production and storage of liquid hydrogen was too energy intensive.

    Were these all stopped by the fossil fuel lobby or by technical difficulties and costs?


    The next big thing is heat pumps. These are probably a good idea if designed into a new build or installed as a replacement in a relatively modern well insulated building. Retrofitting old buildings will cause more problems and costs than any gains. The German Green Party is trying install a heat pump in it’s party headquarters in Berlin. They started in 2019 and after spending EUR 5 million they still have no heat.

    You may well cry ‘Climate Denier Website’ but I have also looked at the original German, Der Spiegel is behind a paywall.

    The Green movement is trying to push this onto  the public when they can’t make it work themselves.

  • Ok, so what is the solution to reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses? We can't just keep saying "that technical solution won't work, and that technical solution won't work". We're engineers, we're the ones who are supposed to have the skills to come up with technical solutions.

  • Thank you Andy, a very valid response and one the IET should be considering, not the woolly drivel that started this thread. My response as an engineer:

    The initial solution is to focus on Nuclear and Hydro. These are long lived dispatchable energy sources with low greenhouse gas emissions (some may argue about emissions and other environmental impacts from large reservoirs). There is a lot of development work being carried out on small modular reactors to reduce build time and complexity. With some used fuel reprocessing this will keep the lights on for a few hundred years until nuclear fusion works.

    The electricity grid infrastructure needs to be reinforced, especially on the local level if building heating is to be electric. This could be a simple as splitting the street distribution cables and feeding them from both ends. Being able to place nuclear power plants near the consumer will ease the expansion/reinforcement of the national grid. Some high energy consumption companies are already looking at their own SMRs to supply electricity and process heat.

    Urban transport is best dealt with by trams, light rail and trolly busses. Rural transport and agriculture is more problematic and will probably remain with fossil fuels. Electric vehicles have their place, especially in reducing pollution in urban areas but the weight problem has to be addressed (although this is also a problem with a lot of current ICE vehicles). Higher weight causes more road damage (to something around w4) as well as more particle emissions. Can this be handled by legislation? How much additional weight is due to safety or emission control requirements and how much is due to bling?

    Long haul air and sea travel is also a problem for the future once the low hanging fruit has been dealt with.

    There will be fossil fuels available for a long time to come. The petrochemical industry will still need oil and gas feeds for lubricating oils, plastics for insulation (electrical and thermal), paints and protective coatings, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers etc. The now waste petrol and diesel from this production can still be used as a fuel when necessary.

    Hydrogen seems very inefficient. Production by electrolysis or steam reformation and carbon capture are both wasteful.  Carbon capture and sequestration also seems to consume more fuel than is sensible. I do know the technology is in it’s early stages but it may be more sensible to capture the CO2 and then use it in greenhouses to promote plant growth as is being done in the pilot project at KEZO near where I live (waste heat from the refuse incinerator is also used to heat the greenhouses).

    I don’t see a significant place for low energy density sources such a solar PV and wind, the EROEI is just not good enough and a rapid installation rate will increase CO2 levels until the eventual payback. If you believe some of the quoted figure for Transient Climate Response (TCR) and Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) this will be a problem.

    This brings up the next problem: Over what timescale do we have to reduce emissions? There is a significant difference between the science based parts of the IPCC and NASA and the political headlines of Greenpeace, WWF, ER, Stop Oil, etc. If they are saying the ‘Science is Settled’ it is dogma not science. If they are talking uncertainties, error bands, model deficiencies then it is probably science. This time scale is important. If we have to reach ‘Net Zero’, whatever that really means, by 2050 there will be a lot of finite resources unnecessarily wasted. If we have to reach it by 2100 then a lot of the problems can be dealt with by natural obsolescence/end of lifespan. Gradually replace the old badly insulated housing stock, run fossil fueled things until they are worn out to maximize the recovery of embedded energy. All the models are running much warmer than reality and most of the disaster headlines are based on the unrealistic RPC 8.5 scenario rather than the more realistic Business as Usual RPC 6 or the Doing a Bit Better RPC 4.5 scenarios.

    My response to the OP was to suggest that the problem should be looked at in the same way as a Capital Expenditure Request (CER).

    The oil and gas companies have a huge amount of engineering and project management expertise. I suspect that they could (and maybe already have) produce a rough version of this CER. This would allow them to see what can be realistically carried out to reduce the demand for their products and when they should stop investing in development of oil and gas fields.

    I know you tend to be more woke/green than me. What would your proposals be? As Simon suggested maybe we should submit a proposal Wink

  • A path to functional solution is a whole lot of this won't work and that won't work.

    Reducing fossil fuel emission should be a collection of solutions starting from cutting down private jet travel, use of biodegradable waste, alternative transportation options (restructuring cities and towns to allow cycling path for instance), avoiding cutting down trees(Amazon) and improving forests cover (the world over tbh), carbon tax (not Carbon capture and offset nonsense) and a word no one likes, degrowth. Development of infrastructure for alternative energy sources so that its adopted easier. These are all solutions that can be implemented without new technological development but can certainly be helped along by engineers.

  • Roger, kindly move off my thread, will you? I am absolutely uninterested in whatever long-winded basic explanation you've given after stating my comment as woolly drivel, which is your second attempt at being disrespectful. 

    Woke isn't in any way synonymous with Green, lol. As I cannot be as unprofessional and disrespectful as you, I will not be stating anything else. 

  • What would your proposals be?

    Personally my proposals are to leave it to experts in the field (other than improving the railways to encourage more people to travel by train, which is the day job!). That may sound like a cop-out, but my view/experience is that this is a really complicated issue - as soon as you look at whole life-cycle carbon emissions auditing it's a whole professional area in itself.

    So I wouldn't be prepared to state that any particular technology / technical solution  / development path has a lower overall greenhouse gas emissions, or that any has higher. Because it's not my field. I do choose to work in the rail industry partly because my best understanding of the current knowledge and technology is that it is a path to greenhouse emissions reduction, but that's slightly different - I wouldn't state that it definitely is.



  • Andy, I do wish that I had your faith/belief in the existence of real experts in whole life-cycle carbon emissions auditing.

    All I have been able to find is very limited scope studies, usually to access government funds and subsidies. My suspicion is that the real whole life studies would prove unpalatable to the various lobby groups so they are simply not funded.

    I am just old enough to remember the concerns over global cooling in the 70s. This was sufficient for the CIA to commission a report on the science of climatology and the likely effect of global cooling and the subsequent food shortages on global stability.

    By 1988 James Hansen was promoting global warming rather than global cooling as the problem facing the world. This has then continued with all sorts of disaster scenarios (none of which have occurred). The cause of global warning was stated unequivocally to be human generated CO2 emissions.

    This resulted in all sorts of ‘Green’ solutions, biomass, solar PV, wind turbines, wave power, hydrogen, all of which were vying for government fund and subsidies. When I started looking at these solutions there was very little information available on how green they really were, EROEI etc. Some would offer figures based on the output of the facility but ignoring everything else such as how to support the intermittency. It was also very difficult to find any information on what resources were actually required to build these solutions. If I have completely missed a wonderful source of data on this please let me know.

    A couple of forum versions ago when Hinkley Point C was in the final planning stages there was some discussion over the published resource data for HPC, amount of earth to be moved, amount of concrete, amount of steel etc. I thought it would be good to compare HPC with an equivalent 3GWe wind farm. There was almost no data available for what was required the build a 6GW wind turbine. In the end I found some data on a US government website. The result was that similar amount of materials were required to build an 3GWe NPP with a lifespan of 60+ years compared to 3GWe worth (based on a capacity factor of 30%) of intermittent wind turbines with a lifespan of 20-25 years.

    A major part of my job is the manufacture of wire and cable for electric rail, tramways and electric road vehicles. I certainly agree that electric rail (supplied with non fossil fuel electricity) will reduce emissions as will tramways and EVs in urban environment. We just need a source and distribution system for this electricity.

    I will be interested to see how my country of residence, Switzerland, deals with the recent referendum on Net Zero by 2050 together with shutting down their NPPs and protecting the alpine landscape.

  • This is the view of the 'experts' at National Grid:

    National Grid sets out case for urgent reform to drive the energy transition | National Grid Group

    Lots more management speak and an 'Investment' of ~£200 Billion by 2035. By investment I guess they mean spending taxpayers money with no financial payback. There may be a small reduction in CO2 emmisions once the energy invested has been paid back.

  • National Grid is a PLC.  Why would taxpayers be giving them money?

  • Where will NG get £16 Billion per year from? If it is from the private sector then there must be a payback otherwise no one would invest. If there is no payback for private investors then the money has to come from government subsidies etc. There is no magic green money tree.

    What income does NG get? It charges for the transmission of electricity over it’s system. Who pays these charges? The consumers in the UK. This is just another green tax.