The party’s manifesto targets a renewable energy target of 100% in just nine years, as well as the creation of 130,000 jobs in the “low-carbon economy”.
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Mr Salmond, who launched the manifesto at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, said: “We are going to engineer the 21st century, just as this city and this country engineered the 19th century.”
He said he wanted to “reindustrialise Scotland through the green energy revolution where we lead the world”.
“Scotland’s vast renewable power sources are an enormous opportunity,” he added.
The proposal says the 100% target can be reached because of the scale of Scotland’s offshore renewable potential. It predicts Scotland will be a major exporter of electricity with “no upper limit to our ambition”.
However, Lewis Macdonald, the Labour Party energy spokesman, said: “Labour is behind the drive to produce more electricity from renewable sources but Alex Salmond’s manifesto pledge is pure fantasy.
“The current target of 80% for 2020 is already extremely ambitious and will be difficult to achieve, so to go beyond that is simply unrealistic.
“This pledge is from a party that when in government for the past four years failed to process many applications for new wind and hydro power projects within their own targets.
“While they dithered, thousands of megawatts of potential renewable energy was going to waste.”
He said the SNP was yet again in danger of making promises they knew they could not keep.
But the targets were welcomed by Dr Richard Dixon, director of environmental group WWF Scotland. He said: “The SNP’s new 2020 renewable electricity target is a vital step in moving towards a low-carbon economy.
“This excellent commitment will help Scotland meet climate targets, create green jobs and exports, and sends a strong message to other countries.”
A widely publicised report from energy consultants Garrad Hassan, sponsored by Friends of the Earth Scotland, RSPB and the WWF, claimed last year Scotland could comfortably meet 100% of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020. The nation could increase this figure to 185% by 2030, it added, giving significant potential for export.
In order to meet these targets, significant growth would be required across all renewable energy sources, while moves to reduce electricity demand would offset some of the difficulty in generation.
To meet these assumptions, the consultants assumed onshore wind capacity would increase at least three-fold by 2020. As of 2010, total capacity stood at around 1918 megawatts (MW), it said. In 2020, assuming that one in five proposed projects is allowed to go ahead, this capacity could increase to around 6738MW.
The report assumes windfarms operate at an average capacity factor of 27% – a lower figure than is commonly quoted by the wind energy industry.
The report also assumes huge increases in offshore wind facilities. As of last year capacity was just 180MW, but it could increase to at least 3000MW by 2020, Garrad Hassan said. Offshore wind power operates at an average capacity factor of 39%, the consultants calculated – higher than onshore turbines, but built at a much greater cost.
Under the scenario considered by the report, wave and tidal energy was also assumed to provide a large chunk of Scotland’s power. While capacity is currently negligible, it could hit around 1260MW by 2023, coming online gradually from 2020 onwards.
Biomass power plants could provide 355MW capacity by 2018, up from 79MW last year, but would only be considered renewable if they used woods from local, well-managed forests. Some increases in hydro power plus energy from waste incinerators and anaerobic digestion would also add to the energy mix, the report assumed.
If all these improvements were achieved while demand continued to grow, renewables would account for 89% of demand. Measures to curb demand and encourage energy efficiency could be used alongside, pushing down the amount consumed and easing the burden on the electricity grid.