Today is a very important day in our energy sector calendar, with the expected announcement of the successful projects selected through ScotWind – the programme which will grant lease areas of the seabed around Scotland for wind farm development.

It’s a big deal in our wider energy supply sense too, as this round will add up to 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore generation capacity to the existing 4GW in operation or construction. For perspective, 10GW from wind generation is equivalent to around four or five times the output of the recently closed Hunterston B nuclear power station, which in the course of its exceptional 45-year operation produced enough electricity to power every home in Scotland for 31 years.

There is a wider importance to these plans too for the security of supply of Scotland and the UK’s electricity supply and, most critically, energy pricing.

Those successful ScotWind projects will form part of the ongoing pursuit of an aspirational nirvana for energy delivery across Scotland and the UK, aiming for a zero-carbon future powered by renewable electricity, backed by nuclear generation, battery storage and interconnection to provide grid stability, plus hydrogen with its part to play as a transportable energy storage medium. The final mix may be a little hazy, but the direction is crystal clear: our homes, transport systems and our businesses will mainly be powered by zero-carbon power generation, and that raises three key questions.

The first is around the timeline and choices of transition. The zero-carbon future we want to secure is at least 20 or more years away and, in the meantime, we have this little issue of enjoying perhaps the highest energy prices in Europe, with no credible outlook that predicts that our current record baseload generation prices are going to return to anything like the levels of just a year ago, and that we would welcome with open arms.

Exposed as we are to global oil and gas prices, and at the end of the pipelines that run east to west through Europe originating from volatile and frankly unstable producers, how can UK plc mitigate both supply and price volatility risks? The solutions lie ultimately around strengthening supply chains, storage capabilities, LNG (liquefied natural gas) infrastructure, and supply optionality, and quickly leads to the contentious question as to whether recovery of UK offshore oil and gas resources is a “climate crime”, or a pragmatic and economic means of meeting the inevitable transitional demand for fossil fuels that will be needed in part to build the infrastructure that delivers net zero. With no magic wands to hand, compromise and balance will be required, a mix of measures aimed at mitigating, stabilising, and spreading risk over time and over-sourcing of supplies.

Our second consideration is around making the right long-term decisions. Governments have often claimed they are technology neutral against the long-term aims to deliver affordable, reliable and zero carbon energy, and that they don’t pick winners. But the execution of policy, in planning and consents, in offshore lease rounds, in price-support mechanisms, in research and development support etc. belies that claim. Intentionally or not, governments are making these decisions and the evidence in terms of economic and environmental credentials does seem to support the advance towards a predominance of offshore wind, with onshore wind and solar, some capacity for reliable nuclear baseload and interconnections with our European neighbours to share the gain and spread the pain.

Diversity and optionality are always the friend of the long-term successful trader and generation mix is no different, and that leaves lots of room for the potential of alternatives like tidal generation, hydrogen including carbon capture schemes or modular nuclear to be explored and piloted.

The third consideration is the opportunity to Scotland and the UK from the hundreds of billions of pounds that will be spent in the conversion of our energy production, distributions systems plus infrastructure transport and decarbonised heating.

How do we secure as much of the value chain for Scottish and UK producers, when the cost of manufacture is so intrinsically linked to energy costs? We all want more of the wind turbine tower manufacturing to be here, but when UK Steel points out that UK steel producers are paying 61 per cent more than German firms and 51% more than the French, can we really expect commercial decisions to turn a blind eye to significantly less expensive production elsewhere. Most infrastructure manufacture is unfortunately energy-intensive, and when that energy is significantly more expensive so too is the manufactured product.

Is it fair to say that with ScotWind’s announced projects, and the opening up of offshore floating wind plus the mix of the other zero- carbon energy solutions discussed above, the future is bright? The issue is that it is the bit between now and then which is the concern. If that is the case, it underlines that we cannot afford to leave energy pricing solely to a “laissez faire” market forces approach, because the opportunities of this transformative stage in the next 20 to 30 years are too valuable to let slip overseas.

Paul Sheerin is chief executive of Scottish Engineering