Independence and the market for electricity in Scotland

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In liberalised electricity markets the impact of further constitutional change depends on the
reaction of all the relevant transactors involved in the supply and demand for electricity. This
includes the manner in which supplies and demands are balanced and the way in which the
market is structured and regulated. A comprehensive analysis would thus require a detailed
study of the impact on the “supply side” of the market (generation, transmission, distribution
and supply), as well as on the “demand side” (households, firms, government). Furthermore,
the fact that electricity cannot easily be stored raises balancing issues, and the Government,
both directly and indirectly (through its influence on the market structure and the regulatory
framework), influences behaviour at all levels. In this paper we do not aspire to a
comprehensive analysis, given the difficulties of delivering that at this stage. A full analysis,
for example, would require further information concerning electricity market reform and
greater evidence of the impact of constitutional change in these circumstances. Rather, we
seek to focus on a number of key areas that we believe will govern the eventual impact of
Under the status quo, many of the elements of the electricity market are outwith the control of
the Scottish Government and are reserved to Westminster. The promotion of renewables, the
resistance to new nuclear and the adoption of legally binding climate change targets are
examples where successive Scottish administrations have used devolved powers to, in
essence, pursue a distinctive Scottish energy policy (Allan et al, 2008). However, many of the
key aspects of electricity market policy (including market regulation, taxation, etc.) are, under
current constitutional arrangements, beyond the control (though not necessarily the influence)
of the Scottish Government. Significant constitutional change may alter some aspects of
market structure and transactor behaviour (for better or worse). But change under
independence may not be dramatic if, for example, a unified GB electricity market is
maintained and there is little substantive difference in regulation in practice, despite the
establishment of a separate Scottish regulator, as the current Government again intends (e.g.
Ewing, 2013; Scottish Government, 2013).
We organise our discussion around the likely impact of further constitutional change on the
ability of the Scottish Government to achieve its energy policy goals, though we focus
primarily on effects that are linked to possible developments in the electricity market.1 In
liberalised markets, energy policy involves the use of policy instruments to induce private
transactors to behave in a way that achieves targets as well as the ultimate policy objectives,
subject to constraints. In the Scottish and UK context the major policy objectives include:
security of supply; environment protection (limiting carbon emissions to inhibit climate
change); economic development (in a sustainable manner) and energy affordability.
Additionally economic development potential has received rather greater emphasis in
Scotland (where energy is one of the Government’s key growth sectors) than in the UK as a
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Publication statusUnpublished - May 2013
EventESRC Conversations 3: Energy Sector in the Context of Constitutional Change in Scotland - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 May 20137 Nov 2013


ConferenceESRC Conversations 3: Energy Sector in the Context of Constitutional Change in Scotland
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • scottish independence
  • david hume institute
  • electricity markets
  • scotland


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