Scottish & English PV landscapes end 2014 on high

What a year it has been for Scotland. While the independence referendum held in September kept the country in union with the rest of the U.K., the extent of citizens’ and communities’ involvement in the independence debate sparked a healthy grassroots trend in Scottish politics. It is this trend that the Scottish Government and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need to turn to in order to promote Scotland’s promising solar PV sector.

Latest Scottish PV data

Based on statistics published by the U.K.’s department of energy and climate change (DECC) in December, Scotland had installed 142 MW of solar PV capacity at the end of the third quarter of 2014.

A separate report published by the British energy regulator Ofgem, and covering the same time period, says of the 142 MW of Scottish PV installations, 136.538 MW has come via feed-in tariff (FIT) systems.

The vast majority of PV systems in Scotland are installed through the steady FIT remuneration system and not via the more changeable Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROC). Furthermore, Scotland has yet to install a ground-mount solar farm, although local companies have told pv magazine that they are planning a handful of small solar parks (up to a few hundreds of KW each), which are now under the licensing round.

Compared to the end of 2013, and especially when placed alongside 2010, when Scotland had installed 119 MW and 2 MW of solar PV respectively, the latest data is encouraging.

According to Ofgem, more than 35,000 homes (about 126 MW) and 600 business premises in Scotland now have solar PV arrays fitted.

Scotland’s cumulative wind power installed capacity at the end of September stood at 5.118 GW (4921 MW of onshore wind capacity and 197 MW of offshore wind capacity), prompting local NGO WWF Scotland director Lang Banks to remark: “The total installed solar capacity may be small when compared to wind energy, but together these solar panels are helping to prevent thousands of tonnes of climate-damaging emissions being emitted every year.

“The great thing about solar is that it can be deployed easily and quickly in towns and cities or in places not suitable for wind turbines. Solar is also complimentary to wind and can share sites and grid connections."

Latest UK PV statistics

The latest UK-wide PV statistics published by DECC this month report that overall UK solar PV capacity at the end of November 2014 stood at 4.671 GW.

Capacity accredited under the ROCs stood at 1.692 GW across 7,612 installations, and this is unchanged compared to the end of October 2014. Renewables Obligation capacity represents 36% of total U.K. solar deployment, says DECC.

Furthermore, at the end of November 2014, capacity eligible for FITs stood at 2.698 GW, across 623,485 installations. This is a 1.6% increase on the October 2014 figure, and a 2% increase in installations, while capacity from FIT systems represents 58% of the U.K.’s solar deployment. Other solar capacity represented 6% of total solar deployment.

Scottish vs. UK PV

In extrapolating Scottish-only figures from the U.K. PV whole, it becomes clear that those installations north of the border are a mere drop in the ocean.

The U.K.’s PV success stems specifically from England. At the end of September, England had installed 4.017 GW of PV compared to 291 MW in Wales, 142 MW in Scotland and 54 MW in Northern Ireland.

This is far from surprising. England has more land, a larger number of rooftops and better solar radiation. Should the Scottish Government wish to develop the country’s PV sector seriously, it needs to concentrate on the rooftop FIT segment. Payments via the ROC or the upcoming Contracts for Difference (CfD) system are changeable and subject to competition, leading solar farm investors to the southern parts of the U.K., where irradiation, and therefore yield, is higher. On the contrary, while FIT payments are apparently also linked to power generation, and hence the solar irradiation too, the nature of the FIT system is more stable, encouraging households and business to join in.

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland told pv magazine recently: "We will soon experience the growth of the Scottish solar PV sector and most possibly this will be initiated by city councils and some Scottish Universities that will develop solar arrays on the rooftops of buildings and empty sites, setting an example that will then be followed wider."

WWF Scotland, Lightsource Renewable Energy and the Solar Trade Association (STA) all lent their voices this week in urging the Scottish Government to provide leadership on Scottish solar PV.

Nick Boyle, Lightsource Renewable Energy’s CEO, said: “To ensure Scotland has the same opportunity to benefit from solar energy as the rest of the U.K., we need Scottish Ministers to use whatever powers are at their disposal to influence energy policy in support of solar technology deployment."

Scotland’s government has a proven track record in encouraging renewable energy development when, despite holding no constitutional energy policy powers, it orchestrated a policy for wind energy that led to the sector’s boom (subject to other factors too, e.g. an excellent wind resource in the north of the U.K.).

Will it choose to do so for solar PV in 2015? Local stakeholders need to press the government firmly in that direction, and rooftop PV looks like being the most appropriate path to take next year.