Increasing low-carbon energy in Scottish agriculture through a whole systems approach

The Climate Change Plan update sets out targets to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector. Carbon dioxide emissions associated with stationary combustion sources and off-road machinery use in agriculture contribute significantly to agricultural emissions and have increased between 2020 and 2021.

The impact of agriculture’s energy use can be difficult to account for, with emissions being captured within grouped sectors (electricity, gas and other) of the greenhouse gases inventory. This report examines the energy use and associated emissions baseline on farms and crofts in Scotland, and explores the potential for efficiency measures and new, low-carbon technologies to support energy emissions reductions in the longer term.

Summary of key findings

  • 82% of the emissions from agricultural energy use stem from other energy sources such as coal, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and oils, and 18% from electricity. This is based on the local authority greenhouse gas statistics where emissions are allocated to where the electricity is used, not where it is generated. 
  • The greatest source of emissions from other energy sources is the livestock sector; within this, beef has the greatest energy emissions due to the dominance of this sector in Scotland; dairy has the greatest intensity of emissions per kilogram of production.
  • The first step in the decarbonisation journey is to look at opportunities to reduce energy use. There is great scope for energy efficiency measures to contribute to decarbonising agriculture. This can be achieved through optimising processes and introducing new technologies such as robotics and precision farming.
  • Reducing other energy emissions by fossil switching to electricity will have a large positive impact. Replacing machinery with electric-powered equivalents will reduce cost and carbon emissions in the long term. Whilst electric replacements are not yet suitable for all farm operations where high power is needed, there are viable alternatives for smaller vehicles such as quad bikes, which are already being used across Scotland.
  • The cost and carbon benefits of switching to electric-powered machinery may be optimised by combining this with on-farm renewable power generation.
  • A good mix of low-carbon and renewable energy generation technologies is available across Scotland, which have generally high uptake and market readiness, and strong applicability to the agricultural sector.
  • For most farmers, the introduction of renewable technologies is an incremental process. Each investment decision must provide a good business case. As farms build their renewable capacity, there is the potential to develop further into micro-grid or distribution network connections.
  • Upgrades to energy distribution networks infrastructure could enable more farmers to export energy and accelerate decarbonisation beyond the farm.

For further details, please read the report.

If you require the report in an alternative format, such as a Word document, please contact or 0131 651 4783.