Ronnie Quinn talks to Joey Baker from marketing agency TMD. They discuss Ronnie’s career in renewables, the future of Scottish industry, and the role of carbon capture in transitioning away from a fossil fuel -based economy.

Who are you and what is your role at NECCUS?

I’m Ronnie Quinn and I’m Chief Executive at NECCUS, which is the central convening body for organisations that are creating a low carbon industrial future for Scotland. 

Our members include developers, industrial emitters, infrastructure owners, academia, professional service firms, government bodies, supply chain companies… it’s a long list and a lot of work, but I’m very happy to be part of moving the dial on emissions reduction.  

How did you come to be involved in industrial decarbonisation, or rather, what’s been your career path leading you to where you are? 

I can try to give you the short story.

I started my professional career as a solicitor, and then moved into the energy sector, managing the distinct Scottish electricity market.

After that, I spent some time in consultancy — again, in electricity markets — and ended up in the world of renewable energy. I worked for the Crown Estate and progressed through that, eventually becoming General Manager for Scotland. And then when the function of the Crown Estate became devolved to the Scottish Government at Holyrood in 2017, I became the first Chief Executive of Crown Estate Scotland.

More recently, I was interim Chief Executive of SCDI, Scottish Council for Development and Industry, and am currently on the Board of Scotland’s Super College – City of Glasgow College. I’m also honoured to be one of the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commissioners.

I’m very proud of the work I’ve done in renewables — I’ve seen that sector take great strides, and it will continue to do so whether I’m there or not. I’m now turning my attention to carbon capture & storage (CCS), and other technologies that can decarbonise industry while making life better for generations to come. I think that’s the next step, and that’s why NECCUS was formed in 2019.

The Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission is something I’ve heard a lot about, both in the news and in my own working life. Can you explain what it means to be a Just Transition Commissioner?

Well, we’ve had transitions in the past in Scotland which have been unsuccessful. The decline of some industries and their associated job losses have left lasting scars on our society. We’ve seen that with the transition away from coal, and the transition away from steel.

Moving towards a low carbon economy presents risks. I hope that by addressing these upfront, we can improve on the track record of transition — we can start thinking of the things that will assist and make life better for people in Scotland, and crucially, not leave people behind.

Does NECCUS play a role in that Just Transition picture?

I would argue yes. The solutions and policies and projects supported and informed by NECCUS are a significant part of that picture. 

As I see it, there are two key advantages to technologies such as CCS, beyond that of taking carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere.

Firstly, these technologies create new jobs. One of the key elements of CCS is blue hydrogen, hence we need workers to facilitate its production and transport and usage — a whole supply chain of jobs that’s ready to boom.

And secondly, these technologies maintain jobs in traditionally carbon-intensive industries that would otherwise be hard to abate. For example, carbon capture can sustain the jobs of people currently working in petrochemicals, cement, plastics, ceramics, glass – all areas that require intense heat in their industrial processes. 

How has your background and personal experiences shaped NECCUS?

Throughout my life I’ve gained a desire to make things better in some way.

I’m not a musician, nor an architect, nor an engineer. The best way I can make things better is through using the knowledge and understanding I’ve gained through my career, and spending my time on things where I think I can make a real difference.

So, for many years I was working largely in renewable energy, which I think has made a difference, and now my role with NECCUS allows me to continue in that spirit, towards positive sustainable change.

The work of NECCUS fits into a wider picture of emissions targets in Scotland. Can you speak to that? How important is industrial decarbonisation in reaching net zero emissions?

I think in this respect, Scottish ministers have been very supportive of NECCUS. 

Scotland’s industrial emissions of carbon dioxide were running at just under 12 million tons per annum pre-pandemic, which is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of all the cars in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Committee on Climate Change has said that moving forward with carbon capture & storage is not optional, and Scottish Ministers have stated that CCS is ‘mission critical’ to Scotland meeting its 2045 net zero ambitions – i.e., there is no other way, short of switching off Scottish industry. 

Is there any single issue you’ve encountered through your work that you think deserves more attention?

I have an inherent frustration in that I always like to see things move forward quicker. And where we are just now with CCS… that’s a good example of that frustration.

We have a world class CCS project in Scotland, the Scottish Cluster, with investors ready to invest. We simply need the Westminster government to either change the “reserve” status of the Scottish Cluster or unlock the Track 2 Process — that is, the second funding round for large scale CCS projects in the UK. We need that context to give investors confidence that there will be access to an operating model that’s sustainable. 

Hopefully, with a new government and new impetus, we will hear about progress very soon and we will be able to coalesce around the Scottish Cluster bid.

Are there any upcoming projects with NECCUS that you’re particularly looking forward to?

Of course. We’ve been running the Scottish Net Zero Roadmap (SNZR) project for the last couple of years and that’s due to report very soon. It’s a huge opportunity to demonstrate the value of low carbon industry, both to the general public, but also to big industrial emitters. 

On the latter point, over 20 of the top 30 industrial emitters in Scotland have signed up to be part of SNZR. They’ll each receive a plan for how they can get their individual sites to net zero, in line with Scotland’s targets, but importantly the project will also give a Scotland-wide view and perspective. 

We all know that it is a challenging time for industry, but this is also an exciting opportunity that we must seize if we are to have any chance of meeting our net zero ambitions. NECCUS will continue to promote industrial decarbonisation for the future of us all.