By Tom Greatrex

There has been a highly visible shift in the way in which power is generated in Scotland over the past decade. New wind turbines and a closed Longannet power station highlight the shift towards the lower-carbon mix that has occurred. The official statistics, published towards the end of last year, show that almost three quarters of the power generated in Scotland comes from low-carbon sources: close to a half-and-half mix between renewables and nuclear power.

Those complementary ways of producing electricity are helping Scotland reduce emissions while continuing to generate power we all need to live our lives.

Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also published, for the first time, details of its low carbon and renewable energy economic survey.

These official figures quantify the economic contribution nuclear power generation makes in Scotland and the comparatively high proportion of turnover from Scottish low-carbon industries that comes from nuclear power. The ONS data shows nuclear power generation contributing more than £660 million to the Scottish economy and supporting more than 2,000 jobs in Scotland.

As well as having the highest level of electricity production from low-carbon sources in the UK, Scotland also has a higher proportion of its low-carbon economy coming from nuclear power. In Scotland, 11.8 per cent of the low-carbon economic impact comes from our two nuclear power stations, whereas in England it is much lower at 7.5 per cent. There is a similar picture for employment: 9.3 per cent of the people employed in low-carbon industries in Scotland help generate nuclear power, compared to just 6.7 per cent in England.

Significantly, the statistics do not include data on employment or turnover in decommissioning and the relevant manufacturing supply chain. The Nuclear Industry Association’s own authoritative jobs map cites the total number of nuclear sector jobs in Scotland at almost 4,000 – double the 2,000 reported by the ONS for power generation.

While these figures are an interesting point of comparison between Scotland and England in their own right, they also point to a wider reality. Nuclear power generation and the associated economic value and job creation play a significant role in the lower-carbon Scotland which many are proud of, some covet and others also seek to emulate.

Having such an abundant source of home-grown energy means the additional electricity produced when onshore wind farms are taking advantage of favourable weather conditions can feed the rest of Britain through the National Grid. These same grid connections also mean that, on part of one day in four, when the wind is calmer or the sun isn’t shining, the power flows from south to north to meet demand.

Both circumstances highlight the importance of baseload nuclear power in Scotland’s generation mix, helping to ensure the electricity is there when demand is highest and underpinning the ability to export electricity when the weather helps generation peak.

The scale of progress made in decarbonising power supply in Scotland has been remarkable. The combination of low-carbon technologies makes a significant contribution to reducing emissions. When some commentators like to pit low-carbon technologies against each other, they lose sight of the fact that each form of generation has a role to play in providing a secure and reliable electricity mix for the future.

As the decarbonisation of heat and transport will result in increased demand for electricity, we will continue to need to use all of the available technologies to power our lives. Taking the best features of technologies which generate, store, distribute and save power in as low-carbon a way as possible is the best way to build a platform for the future.

To meet the shared Scottish and UK objective of a secure low-carbon generation mix, new nuclear will need to be part of that broader mix for the future. It is a desirable resource that should be used to address the continuing energy challenges across the whole of the UK.

The newly quantified economic value of generating nuclear power in Scotland is significant but it is the wider contribution to a broad and balanced energy mix that will be priceless.

Tom Greatrex is chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, the trade body for the civil nuclear industry.