Apart from the inevitable focus on Scotland's constitutional question, the new SNP administration must, once again, face up to the delivery of campaign pledges including the development of more renewable energy.
The SNP's aim is that all of Scotland's electricity requirement will be met through renewable sources within the next decade. This ambitious target is shared with environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth, but is it realistic? There are certainly a number of key challenges to be overcome before Scotland can rely this heavily on wind, wave, biomass and tide.
Firstly, there’s the Scottish planning system. While there have been changes to this and to the marine licensing system which governs offshore renewables, projects continue to take many years to get through the consents process. We need to seriously question if we are getting the balance right between environmental concerns and energy needs – and doing so in a cost effective manner.
Charging renewable energy projects to use the electricity grid is another key issue, especially for remotely based projects in areas like the Highlands and islands which are far removed from large centres of consumption, particularly those in the south east of England. This is not a devolved matter and is currently subject to review by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the regulator Ofgem. While the Scottish Government cannot control the outcome of this review, it will have a significant impact on whether we are able to meet renewable energy targets north of the Border.
Finally, we need to better utilise technology to ensure that National Grid can operate more efficiently. The pace of renewable development should encourage increasing reliance on smarter grid solutions so that more projects do not always require major new overhead lines.
Given the hurdles to be overcome, the new SNP administration will be thankful for the extra year in the next parliamentary term.