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New solar energy head wants to see Scotland tap into sun's unused potential

By Calum MacLeod

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New Solar Energy Scotland chairman Thomas McMillan.
New Solar Energy Scotland chairman Thomas McMillan.

The new chairman of Solar Energy Scotland wants to see the country do much better when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun.

Thomas McMillan, Savills UK's Perth based head of energy consultancy, said he had decided to take on the role to help solar power achieve its huge potential in helping to meet Scotland's ambitious net zero targets.

"Per head of population, Scotland is leading the UK's renewable revolution, with 11.8GW of installed capacity having been deployed at the end of the third quarter of 2020," he said.

"Scotland’s electricity generation is now equivalent to approximately 90 per cent of our electricity consumption, yet over the same timescale, we have only installed 372MW of Solar. This means that solar represents just three per cent of all renewables in Scotland, a meagre contribution by anyone’s standards."

Scotland is lagging behind other parts of the UK, contributing just 2.5 per cent of the 13GW capacity now deployed, despite Scotland making up a third of the landmass.

Mr McMillan dismissed as a myth the idea that Scotland is much less suitable for solar generation that elsewhere in the British Isles, pointing out that solar irradiance in Fife is 96 per cent of that found around Birmingham.

He also believes Scotland has much to offer solar power developers.

"Unlike in England we have less competition for land here, creating a positive landscape for solar farms," he continued.

"With a less dense population, residential dwellings have larger gardens for ground mounted solar, and fewer of us live in flats, meaning homeowners are more likely to have a roof on which to install solar panels.

"The Scottish government has prioritised both affordable housing and fuel poverty. So with solar panels now able to deliver low carbon electricity more cheaply than mains electricity, the sector has an open door on which to knock.

"In addition, the large number of rural communities which have no access to Scotland’s gas network amplifies the possibilities for both solar PV (photovoltaics) and solar thermal where these technologies can be deployed in combination with others, such as heat pumps."

Scotland has untapped potential for solar power and currently contributes just 2.5 per cent of the solar energy generated in the UK.
Scotland has untapped potential for solar power and currently contributes just 2.5 per cent of the solar energy generated in the UK.

As well as false perceptions about Scottish weather conditions, Mr McMillan also identified a lack of political focus on solar energy as another critical block on solar development.

"Solar developers and investors face a lack of permitted development rights in Scotland, compared to England and Wales, along with excessive planning fees, making the planning process hugely challenging. In addition business rates are creating an additional tax burden on companies wanting to invest in low carbon technology," he said.

"With significant investment into Scottish grid infrastructure in recent years for the deployment of wind, there is an enormous untapped grid potential for solar in Scotland.

"With key barriers removed Scotland is well placed to grow solar energy deployment to 4GW, more than 10 times current levels, by the end of the decade. An ambitious Government could potentially deliver as much as 6GW.Not only would this contribute towards the country’s net zero ambitions, but it would also create up to 6000 highly skilled low carbon jobs for the Scottish economy.

"As the new chair of Solar Energy Scotland I will be calling on the Scottish government to set an ambitious solar deployment target for 2030 so that real focus can be given to dismantling the development barriers that are holding back the industry."

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