As Glasgow basked in glorious sunshine last week, the Burness Paull Renewables team attended the 2019 All Energy conference at the SEC. There was a distinct air of both realism and optimism in the arena as to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as the UK seeks to meet its stretching decarbonisation targets.

We noticed three key themes coming up in presentations and discussions at the conference:

1. “It is the most critical…White Paper that will ever be written around energy”

A bold statement by Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of ScottishPower, but one that rings true with the views of many at the conference. Chris Stark, Chief Executive of CCC, made similar comments about politicians needing to show the courage to set a course for the quadrupling of renewable energy capacity over the next four decades – an increase in capacity that will be fundamental to the decarbonisation agenda and growth in EVs.

The renewable energy sector in the UK has always longed for a clear, consistent and coherent energy strategy – a course that is set and followed by Government, and not subject to change and policy decisions that dent confidence in the sector. It is testament to the success of the sector that, with each hurdle, the industry has shown the ability to adapt and move forward - but the scale of the challenge ahead with the decarbonisation of heat and transport, (likened at the conference to the “post-war infrastructure revolution”) will require a proper strategy that is implemented and adhered to.

The success of this strategy will then depend on the political will to make it happen, the framework of the policy itself, and the ability to drive investment and corporate ambition.

2. Knocking Brexit off the news agenda

The conference held a timely slot in the annual calendar, coming quickly on the back of a series of high profile environmental reports, the Extinction Rebellion protests, political declarations of a “climate change emergency” and other demonstrations. The message was clear throughout the conference and there is a belief that the mood has now changed with regards to the importance of tackling climate change.

The UK’s climate change targets are definitely a challenge – to meet such 2050 targets, quadrupling of new renewable generation is required, and the policy and strategy to deliver this must be first designed and then implemented. The timing for this is critical. As each year passes, we move closer to the target dates and time is lost in implementing the proposed strategy– for example, planning trees to soak up CO2 will not simply happen overnight. As lawyers, we are aware of the timescales for renewable energy developments, the planning process, securing land rights and constructing and developing projects – often the process is not simple or straightforward, with offshore wind projects taking up to a decade from conception to generation.

A key message from the conference was the need to address these issues now. We have the technology available to us and we have utilities and developers, investors and lenders, keen to embrace the opportunities. This is a monumental challenge in the timescales, but it is clear that the time to act is now and the UK Government and energy sector cannot continue to delay this process.

3. The race is on for cities to reach net zero - “there will be no losers in this race”

As cities set their own testing targets and race to reduce carbon emissions and meet decarbonisation goals, the sector needs to be mindful of the social impact of this revolution.

It was not very long ago that All Energy in Aberdeen heard of the significant supply chain opportunities for offshore wind in Scotland as the first batch of Round 3 projects secured zones in the Crown Estate leasing round. Although there has been some success in this regard with the Scottish supply chain obtaining key roles on the development of Moray East and Beatrice offshore wind farms, it pales in comparison to the scale of opportunity that was painted almost a decade ago.

It is therefore essential that in the next energy revolution that is currently underway, local communities and companies are able to reap the benefits available. This should not be a discussion simply on the costs of development (in terms of GDP) but must focus on the environmental, social, economic, health and fuel poverty aspects of proceeding with development and ensuring the engagement of the wider community along the way.

With the future growth in onshore wind, repowering opportunities, the next batch of offshore wind projects on the horizon and the growth of EVs and infrastructure, now is definitely the time to grasp the scale of opportunity, to the extent it was missed a decade ago.

Burness Paull will be at All Energy in 2020 and we very much hope to see significant progress and success having been made in respect of the central themes highlighted here. We also hope that the weather remains as glorious…