The clean fuel of independence

The reasons why Scottish independence is so badly needed for the success, sanity, and security of this country keep piling up. Just in the past few days more reasons have been added to the ever growing pile, not that most people in Scotland would know that because we are saddled with a parochial and provincial British nationalist media which is determined to ensure that Scotland remains parochial and provincial.

Scotland is an energy powerhouse, this country has the potential to produce vast amounts of energy, both from traditional fossil fuels and from clean renewable sources, either one of these can provide many times more energy than Scotland requires for its own domestic and industrial consumption, creating a huge surplus for export which could be sold to other countries and provide enormous national income which could be used to guarantee lower energy bills for Scottish consumers. That’s the theory, what happens in practice is very different. Energy policy is reserved to the Westminster government which imposes a system that gives Scotland the worst possible outcome. As a part of the UK Scotland is in the ridiculous position of being a country which produces more energy than its citizens could possibly need from resources that are the common property of all , yet its people suffer from record levels of fuel poverty and high fuel bills that many households struggle to pay.

There are conflicting claims about whether Scottish households pay more for energy than is paid elsewhere in the UK. In June, last year, during the worst of the cost of living crisis, the average fuel bill in Scotland was £1651 per year compared to £1554 for people in England and £1525 in Wales. British nationalist froth group These Islands denies that Scots pay more for energy than households in England, which we can file under – well they would say that wouldn’t they. But the point is not the relative amount paid by households in Scotland compared with those in England, the point is that the UK burdens Scotland with a broken energy system which delivers huge profits for the energy companies while thousands of Scottish households struggle with fuel poverty – defined as more than 10% of household income being spent on energy after housing costs (rent or mortgage costs) are deducted.

Figures provided by fuel poverty campaigners Energy Action Scotland show that 40% of people living in the Western Isles live in fuel poverty compared to just 13% in East Renfrewshire. The Scottish average was 24% of all households. Almost a quarter of households in Scotland live in fuel poverty thanks to UK Government mismanagement of energy policy. In a country as blessed with such abundant energy resources as Scotland, zero percent of households should live in fuel poverty.

Yet in 2021 the UK National Grid spent £806 million pounds in fees, so called ‘curtailment costs’ paid to wind farms, 82% of which was paid to wind farm operators in Scotland because the National Grid has not been upgraded sufficiently to handle the renewable power that Scotland can generate. The costs of the shutdowns added over £500 million to energy bills across the UK. In addition there is the enormous loss of energy that could have been harnessed productively.

Vast amounts of energy which Scotland could produce are not being produced because the British Government has not invested enough in the National Grid in order to cope with the electricity that Scotland can produce from clean renewable sources. The shortfall must be made up with the polluting fossil fuel gas, much of which the UK imports from abroad. Energy which is produced in Scotland and fed into the UK National Grid incurs transmission fees as Scotland is far from the main centres of energy consumption in Southern England. The upshot is a financial penalty on Scottish energy producers.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this, there are developing and existing technologies which could allow excess Scottish electricity production to be stored until it is needed, such as increased hydro capacity, green hydrogen production, or batteries or fuel cells.

A quick chemistry lesson is in order here. Hydrogen is a highly combustible gas. The airships of the interwar period were filled with hydrogen because a given volume of unpressurised hydrogen is considerably lighter than the equivalent volume of unpressurised air. However hydrogen is also highly reactive. A spark caused the hydrogen filled floatation bags in the Zeppelin the Hindenburg to explode with such catastrophic effect when it voyaged to New York in 1937. A similar disaster had befallen the British airship the R101 in 1930. Modern airships use helium, which is also lighter than air but unlike hydrogen is inert.

Burning methane, the combustible gas which is the primary component of the natural gas we use for cooking and heating, creates large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the major contributor to the greenhouse gases which are responsible for anthropogenic climate change. However burning hydrogen does not create carbon dioxide, the product of burning hydrogen is water vapour. A water molecule is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, so the world contains a supply of hydrogen which is limitless in practical terms in the form of the immense quantity of water in the world’s oceans.

Burning hydrogen causes the hydrogen atoms to react with oxygen and we end up with water again. It is also possible to produce hydrogen by separating hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules using electrolysis. However liberating the hydrogen from water molecules requires a huge amount of energy, and that’s where the excess energy from Scotland’s windfarms comes in. This clean energy could be used to produce hydrogen from water, the hydrogen could then be stored until it was required. The entire process is carbon neutral.

The exciting potential of this clean hydrogen is that it could theoretically be used in existing gas distribution networks to replace the methane gas we use for cooking and heating. Of course investment would be required to upgrade existing networks and appliances for hydrogen, as well as major investment in facilities to produce and store the hydrogen. This investment has not been forthcoming from a British Government which maintains an energy policy whose aim is to protect the profits of the fossil fuel giants.

British energy policy penalises Scottish energy producers and deprives the Scottish energy sector of vital investment which could permit Scotland to produce abundant amounts of green energy which would remain on tap even when the wind wasn’t blowing or the sun wasn’t shining. But that won’t happen until Scotland is in charge of its own energy policy, which can only occur with independence. Until then Scotland will continue to pay through the nose for energy.


albarevisedMy Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to [email protected] (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).

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