Renewables tech entrepreneur Duncan Dingwall and his small but agile family-run solar and electric vehicle green energy solutions outfit, based in Perthshire, represents the future for Scotland. This is a country driven by technological innovation and on the cusp of becoming a fully-fledged North European commercial gateway.
ScotlandIS, membership and cluster management body and voice of the country's digital technologies industry, notes the country's top two export markets have swapped places with Europe moving above North America. This is not the case for the rest of the UK, highlighting just how integral that market is to Scotland. Is someone trying to tell us something? COP26 made it clear that the future must be about accelerating Scotland's ongoing transition to a new lower carbon economy by developing clean tech, robotics, electric vehicles (EVs) and diagnostics.
Diverse Energy Solutions (DES) illustrates just how versatile one can be with solutions centred on renewable energy, solar, EVs and battery storage. Managed by Dingwall from a base in Crieff, DES also does a natty line in e-bikes. He says sustainable energy is increasingly more prevalent, not only in our personal and business ethics but also our bank balances. The next stage involves what he describes as 'ethical energy choices' working optimally for us, on all fronts, to work smarter, not harder, in the quest for sustainable/ diverse energy running alongside clever design and intuitive technology.
Home Energy Scotland makes grants and loans available for energy saving ,typically £7,500 (£9,000 in rural areas), to install a range of improvements ranging from boilers, zero emission heating, cavity walls, draught proofing including replacement of single glazing, and solar panels and other linked solutions. DES is the perfect example of an enterprise going places. It is pivotal in positioning Scotland as a serious player and go-to European commercial hub.
Since the UK (but not Scotland) voted to leave the EU in 2016, Scottish exports to Europe have grown more rapidly than any other region, although trading everywhere on the planet was seriously hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever the sector, a common denominator is digitising processes and products as essential, whether it be market leaders in fishing, oil and gas, whisky or tourism. The ongoing hustings centred on who replaces Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister may have temporarily skewed Scotland's offering as we're at a politically uncertain juncture. But whatever the political colour in government, tech gets on with what it does best.
IT contributes about £7.5bn gross value added (GVA) to Scotland's economy. We have a thriving tech ecosystem with over 1,500 companies and more than 10% of Scottish jobs are now in the digital sector. Demand for technology professionals has risen by more than 200% in 12 months despite an easing in the tech jobs market. The sector employs 100,000 skilled workers. We're already attracting significant overseas investments and are engaged in a free flow of high levels of business activity with ambition more than matched by the latest cluster of tech-based innovations.
Clever ideas reinforce our reputation for sheer ingenuity – just requiring to be combined with business opportunity. It's a little over two decades since Silicon Glen's previous electronics-based prowess, ruling the semiconductor arena outside California's Silicon Valley before the collapse of the hi-tech global economy in 2000. How about a new watchword: 'Digital Glen'?
A report two years on from the Scottish Tech Ecosystem Review (STER) finds strong progress in a number of areas, with government investment totalling £60m during that time. Applications are invited for tech outfit involvement in a £42m 'Techscaler Network' of hubs that includes free mentorship and professional advice. Government partners include Barclays' Eagle Labs and Reforge. Hubs can be found in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, followed up by Dumfries.
Central to how we're perceived overseas is highlighted at Edinburgh hub Codebase, the UK's largest technology incubator. Chair, Gillian Docherty, says that Techscaler provides the right infrastructure and support systems to enable founders to replicate successful growth methods to build startups. It's all about developing skills and attracting investment to 'start-and-scale' a tech business. Skills that take inspiration from well-documented previous generational expertise, when Scotland was responsible for a long list of inventions including penicillin, the steam engine, television, telephone and Dolly the Sheep.
Now it's all about renewables. Scotland is well placed: wind already provides the cheapest power in Scotland's energy mix plus very significant reserves of wave, hydro and tidal power. Just as Scotland led the world into the industrial age, it now has an obligation to help the planet into the net zero age and position itself as a testbed for clean energy.
Renewable energy currently accounts for almost 100% of Scotland's gross electricity consumption, representing around one third of the country's overall energy demand. It has already more than halved the country's greenhouse gas emissions from its 1990 baseline, cutting such emissions more quickly than any other country in the G20. Scotland is home to the world's largest floating windfarm and is on the way to becoming the most reliable and lowest-cost hydrogen producer in Europe. It also contributes to international energy security, working with allies across the globe, collectively striving to build a fairer and more sustainable world. Scotland is way up there when it comes to sustainability initiatives.
However, DES's director, Duncan Dingwall, stresses that it must be all about 'caring passionately' about everyone's right to install, produce, manage, monitor and utilise their own power along with the planet as they make eco-conscious decisions, whether it be a corporation, small local business or solely domestic use. All are inextricably-linked as a route towards Scotland achieving a significantly lower carbon economy and net zero future.
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'