Senior SNP politicians mislead on renewable energy generation

14 October 2022
What was claimed

Almost 100% of Scotland’s entire electricity production comes from renewables.

Our verdict

False. In 2020, 62% of the electricity produced in Scotland came from renewable sources. A further 26% came from low-carbon sources (mainly nuclear), and 11% from fossil fuels.

What was claimed

Scotland’s net energy consumption is already provided by renewable energy sources.

Our verdict

False. In 2020 around a quarter of Scotland’s total energy consumption came from renewables. The Scottish Government has since said Nicola Sturgeon meant to refer to gross electricity consumption instead—renewables account for the equivalent of almost 100% of gross electricity consumption.

What was claimed

Scotland has 100% self-sufficiency in its electricity requirements from renewables.

Our verdict

This is misleading. Scotland does produce renewable electricity equivalent to its annual consumption. But as renewable energy generation is variable, Scotland often still needs to use non-renewable electricity or imported electricity as well. In 2021 domestic renewable generators alone were only capable of meeting demand for 38% of the year.

"Almost 100% of our entire electricity production comes from renewables.”

“Under this government, we have a position where our net energy consumption is already provided by renewable energy sources.”

“We’ve now got 100% self-sufficiency in our electricity requirements from renewables.”

In recent weeks, three leading Scottish National Party politicians have made false or misleading claims about renewable energy production in Scotland.

This is a topic we’ve looked at before. Last year we checked a claim from Nicola Sturgeon about the proportion of the electricity Scotland uses which comes from renewable sources, and this led to the SNP correcting material on its website. However, similar errors continue to be made by its representatives.

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A significant proportion of the electricity Scotland produces is not renewable

On 8 September, the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed in Parliament that “almost 100% of our entire electricity production comes from renewables”.

This is false. Scottish Government statistics show that in 2020, 62% of the electricity produced in Scotland came from renewable sources. A further 26% came from low-carbon sources (mainly nuclear), and 11% from fossil fuels.

Full Fact approached the SNP about Mr Blackford’s comments but did not receive a response at the time of publication. After publication, his office confirmed Mr Blackford had meant to say that Scotland produces about as much renewable electricity as the total amount of electricity it consumes.

In 2020, Scotland produced 32,121 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable electricity. That’s the equivalent of around 99% of its gross electricity consumption, which is the amount of electricity Scotland generates, plus imports (which account for about 2% of Scotland’s electricity consumption), minus exports. 

Scotland’s ‘net energy consumption’ is not provided by renewable sources

On 29 September, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that “under this government, we have a position where our net energy consumption is already provided by renewable energy sources”.

This is not correct. The Scottish Government doesn’t publish figures for “net energy consumption”, but its statistics show that in 2020 just over a quarter of Scotland’s total energy consumption came from renewables.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told us “Scotland already has a hugely positive story to tell in renewable energy, which accounts for the equivalent of almost 100% of our gross electricity consumption”, and said Ms Sturgeon had actually meant to refer to gross electricity consumption, not net energy consumption (which would include things like gas from the North Sea, which is obviously not renewable).

“Gross electricity consumption” basically refers to total electricity used. “Net electricity consumption” is commonly used internationally to refer to measures of gross consumption minus losses that occur when electricity is moved around the grid and/or electricity used in electricity generation itself. 

As a net exporter of electricity, Scotland produces far more than it uses. And, as mentioned above, it produces about as much renewable electricity as the total amount of electricity it uses. But it doesn’t just use the renewable electricity, and export the non-renewable electricity.

In the 12 months to September 2022, 63% of electricity actually used in Scotland came from renewable sources, 20% from nuclear and 14.5% from gas. 

Renewable electricity is used much more in Scotland than in England and Wales though, where it accounts for around 37% of electricity used.

Ms Sturgeon subsequently corrected her claim in the official Scottish Parliament record.

Scotland still needs to use non-renewable electricity for much of the year

Finally, Deputy First Minister John Swinney’s comment to the BBC on 7 September that “we’ve now got 100% self-sufficiency in our electricity requirements from renewables” was misleading.

As outlined above, Scotland does produce renewable electricity equivalent to its annual consumption. But as renewable energy generation is variable, Scotland often still needs to use non-renewable electricity or imported electricity to meet demand as well.

Electricity demand and supply need to be balanced, in real-time. That means there will often be times when renewable generation (which is, by nature, intermittent in the case of solar or wind, generating when the sun shines or wind blows) produces more or less electricity than is needed. 

While electricity storage can even this out a little (storing renewable electricity when generation is higher than demand, and putting it back into the system when generation is lower than demand), Scotland still needs to export renewable electricity when it has too much, and use non-renewable electricity or imports when it has too little.   

Scottish Government statistics show that Scottish renewable electricity generators alone were only capable of meeting demand for 38% of the year. Essentially, for 62% of the year, Scotland did not have enough renewable electricity to entirely meet its immediate electricity demand.

The Scottish Government told Full Fact Mr Swinney’s comments about self-sufficiency were intended to be an alternative way of expressing the fact that in 2020 Scotland’s renewable electricity output was equivalent to almost 100% of its total electricity demand.

Image courtesy of the Scottish Government

Update 30 November 2022

This fact check has been updated with a response from Mr Blackford and to say that Ms Sturgeon has now corrected the record.

We took a stand for good information.

As detailed in our fact check, Nicola Sturgeon has made a correction to the official record in relation to this claim. 

After publishing this fact check we contacted Ian Blackford MP to request a correction regarding this claim. 

Mr Blackford's office confirmed he misspoke but he has not made a correction.

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