wind

Claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity is False

Stephen Flynn is the Westminster leader for the Scottish National Party (SNP). 

The 34-year-old MP for Aberdeen South replaced Ian Blackford, who announced he’d be standing down on 1 December.

Flynn’s election led to renewed publicity around a claim he and other SNP politicians made in recent months about the potential of Scotland’s offshore wind energy, which came to light after research from political think tank, These Islands

We have 25% of Europe’s offshore wind capacity.

Stephen Flynn

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it False.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

Evidence

The claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity has been shared by SNP politicians and activist groups for many years. 

It was promoted by former first minister Alex Salmond at least as far back as 2004. In a debate at Westminster on 8 September 2004, he said: “Scotland has 25 per cent, not of the UK’s wind capacity but of Europe’s” attributing this statistic to the “Risoe laboratory” in Denmark. 

Since then the claim has been made multiple times, both in the Scottish and UK parliaments, and in promotional material for the SNP. It appears to have been first used by the Scottish Government in a 2010 report

Stephen Flynn made the claim in a Westminster committee appearance on 18 October 2022, while similar claims have been made in November 2022 by Ian Blackford and Kirsten Oswald

How accurate is it? 

In a response to a freedom of information (FOI) request in 2021, the Scottish Government revealed some information about the statistic, describing it as a “dated but often used figure”. 

Scotland’s offshore wind capacity figure came from a 2001 research report, Scotland’s Renewable Resource, which estimated Scotland’s potential offshore wind capacity.

It estimated Scotland’s offshore wind capacity could be 25 gigawatts (GW). 

For the European estimates, the Scottish Government report came to a figure of 102GW. This used figures from a report called Windforce 10, published in 1999, which used statistics pulled from a separate report published in 1995. 

The 1999 Windforce 10 report estimated European offshore wind potential at 313.6 terawatt hours (TWh), which the Scottish Government converted into a capacity of 102GW. 

In response to a further FOI about the claim on 11 May 2022, the Scottish Government said it did “not hold a record of the formulae used to arrive at this figure”.

The 25GW figure for Scotland was then divided by the European estimate of 102GW to come up with the claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity.

These two figures are now significantly out of date. The figure for Scotland’s offshore wind potential is now more than 20 years old, while the European figure was published nearly 30 years ago. 

The two figures are also not directly comparable.  

According to the UK Statistics Authority, the estimate for Scotland included any potential capacity further than 5km from the shoreline in waters up to 30m deep. 

It also assumed a turbine density of 8 megawatts (MW) per square km. The number of turbines in an area, and how close they are to each other, affects their efficiency as turbines need clean unobstructed air to work properly. 

The analysis did not include the impact of technical or environmental issues on installing turbines in certain areas offshore. 

However, the report where the European figure was sourced was far more restrictive in its parameters, and stated that a “conservative approach” has been taken in its estimates. 

It looked at shallower water, and assumed a lower density of turbines. 

It also counted a smaller percentage of the offshore area, to take into account practical and social challenges that could impede installing of turbines. 

What has the reaction been to the claim? 

Reporting and freedom of information requests by think tank These Islands led to much of the information about the source of this claim. Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton wrote to the UK Statistics Agency (UKSA) over the “serial misuse and mismanagement” of the statistic, and the UKSA found the claim “give an inflated picture of Scotland’s potential relative to the rest of Europe”.

In response to criticism over the figure, the Scottish Government told a number of media outlets that the claim “requires updating” but said it was “calculated accurately at the time”

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

The statistics behind the claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind energy capacity are very out-of-date, and use incomparable figures to come to a misleading conclusion. 

This claim is false

Cover image thanks to Tom Buysse / iStock

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