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Analysis: meeting targets for carbon reduction and zero waste

ANTONY AKILADE finds the innovative spirit of Scotland is rising to the challenges set by the Scottish Government's targets for carbon reduction and zero waste

Ambitious schemes to deploy renewable energy infrastructure, and projects where businesses successfully reduce overheads without reducing productive capacity abound.

Distillers are recovering energy from waste heat, landmark projects such as Glasgow's Commonwealth Games are deploying renewable energy technologies and Scottish low-carbon technology providers are finding success in overseas markets.

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There is much more to be done and Scotland's low carbon sector gets a boost this week with key events aimed at increasing the uptake of renewable energy and resource-efficient strategies.

On Wednesday, The Herald and Scottish Enterprise team up to host a masterclass by Dan Reicher, Executive Director at Stanford University's prestigious Steyer-Taylor Centre for Energy Policy and Finance.

Reicher, who was previously Google's Energy and Climate Director, will be looking at strategies for taking low-carbon and renewable technologies to market including how to secure investment in emerging markets.

Preceding this is the 5th Mackay Hannah Annual Infrastructure and Investment conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Themed around finding the right investment for Scottish low carbon infrastructure the conference includes contributions from directors of the Green Investment Bank, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust.

The innovative spirit of Scotland and its technological achievements, is perhaps nowhere better embodied than in the figure of Lord Kelvin. Today close to the banks of the eponymously named river the granite statue of the former University of Glasgow professor wiles away the day chatting to pigeons and adventurous children.

Kelvin, among many other things, developed the concept of the heat pump. A technology that gives us refrigerators, air conditioning systems and a means of delivering heat which, with the latest equipment, is more efficient than burning gas.

However in common with many developments from these shores it was left to others to pick up the baton. An Austrian built the first commercial heat pump, the Scandinavians developed the technology as a solution to the oil crisis of the 1970s and latterly the Japanese have made strides to improve efficiencies.

The statue of Lord Kelvin sits between the river and the university where he spent 50 years teaching and researching. The irony is that the river could be harnessed to heat the entire university campus using the technology he dreamt into being. Such a scheme has the potential to deliver financial savings as well as give a degree of energy security to the university.

Local authorities and large estate owners such as universities and housing associations could be deploying schemes of this sort across the country using rivers, the sea and even waste water infrastructure. And it's worth noting that with companies such as Glasgow-based Star Renewable Energy, Scottish know-how is once again at the forefront of delivering the cutting-edge technology required.

What stops these projects from being implemented is a perceived lack of funds and perhaps more importantly a resistance to change that persists like a block of ... well granite.

But transition takes time. The North Sea oil and gas sector dates back to the 1850s when commercial extraction of oil began. There were small finds of gas off the English coast in the 1930s but it was not until the late 1960s that the industry took off with the discovery of large oil fields.

Similarly the first offshore wind farm was installed off the coast of Denmark in 1991. Today, the total installed capacity of offshore wind farms in European waters stands at around 6.5GW, the UK now has the largest capacity of offshore wind farms in Europe with around 3.7GW, and the waters off Scotland's coastline have yet to be developed.

Transition takes time but the pace of change is far from constant. Driven by the current period of financial difficulty and ever increasing energy and raw material costs we can expect to see many more businesses make moves to improve efficiency.

Early adopters are already cashing in on the opportunities and reducing costs without reducing productive capacity. The simplest of changes can bring savings. Brewer Innis and & Gunn reduced the amount of glass in their bottles, saving on raw material costs and transportation overhead. Panel manufacturer Grant Westfield meanwhile made savings of £2000 a month on a monthly energy bill of £12000 by installing low carbon technologies including photovoltaics on the roof.

Even small changes can make an impact on the bottom line. The installation of relatively low-cost voltage optimisers, for example, can deliver a quick 10% saving on electricity consumption. A recent Carbon Trust report showed that energy efficiency measures in a survey of over 2000 organisations delivered an average internal rate of return of over 40%.

However, the Carbon Trust survey also found that 40% of companies saw their response to sustainability as reactive. The events this week will hopefully inspire more organisations to overcome their resistance to change and adopt proactive strategies. Organisations such as Scottish Enterprise with teams of sustainability specialists are on hand to highlight the options and detail the economic benefits businesses can expect as a result of implementing low carbon technologies.

The statue of Lord Kelvin stands as a monument to the spirit of a bygone era, perhaps it can become an inspiration for the journey toward a low carbon future.

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