Scotland’s first energy strategy draws mixed feelings from solar industry

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The Scottish Government unveiled its first ever energy strategy yesterday, December 20.

It considers the use and supply of energy for heat (51% of total final energy consumption), power (24%) and transport (25%), focusing on three core principles: a whole system view, an inclusive energy transition, and a smarter local energy model. The strategy also outlines two scenarios based on an electric future and a hydrogen future.

Overall, the government aims to supply 50% of Scotland’s energy needs from renewables by 2030.

“This assumes a considerably higher market penetration of renewable electricity than today – requiring in the region of 17 GW of installed capacity in 2030 (compared to 9.5 GW in June 2017) – with greater interconnection with parts of continental Europe providing an expanded market for our electricity,” write the strategy’s authors.

With a cumulative capacity of 6.7 GW as of Q1 2017, wind is by far the biggest source of renewable energy in Scotland, followed by hydro at 1.6 GW. Solar, in comparison, accounts for a comparatively negligible amount, having installed just 328 MW.

According to Scottish Renewables, the latest statistics show that as of this March, a further 11 MW were in planning, 238 MW were awaiting construction and 20 MW were under construction.

A nod to solar

Unlike the U.K. Government, which has completely given up all mention of solar, Scotland’s new energy strategy does make reference to it, albeit fleetingly.

For instance, it recognizes that solar PV can increasingly contribute to Scotland’s energy needs.

“There is enough capacity in Scotland to power the equivalent of over 50,000 homes, and potential for the sector to provide low cost energy, system stability (e.g. through storage) and create jobs,” state the strategy’s authors.

They add, “Combining storage with wind and solar assets presents a valuable solution for the energy system as a whole, offering the potential for demand to be managed locally. This kind of flexibility and control will be important as electric vehicles become an integral part of the transport system.

“The Scottish Government is considering, as part of the Planning Review, the potential to expand permitted development (PD) rights for certain renewable installations (removing the need to apply for planning permission for certain developments). Solar will also be considered under the forthcoming review of energy standards within building regulations.”

But that is it.

Calls for a solar action plan

While the Scottish Solar Trade Association (STA Scotland) has welcomed the commitment by the government on renewables, it has called for a dedicated solar action plan.

“Solar is key to achieving the three principles that make-up Scottish Government’s vision … but the role of solar, which is the world’s largest clean energy market, is not given due recognition or sufficient practical policy support,“ it said in a statement yesterday.

Overall, STA Scotland estimates a 6 GW capacity potential for solar in the next 12 years, which could create 10,000 jobs and £1.5 billion in revenues.

“The solar industry in Scotland is still in its infancy and the synergy solar provides with other technologies and smart systems, means this technology needs more prominence in the Scottish Government’s energy strategy,” STA Scotland Chair, Chris Clark.

He added, “Too many key policy decisions for solar are being kicked into the long grass when action is needed today, so we look forward to working with the Government to expedite progress.”

Specifically, the association is looking for concrete solar support in four key areas: (i) a route-to-market for large-scale projects (the government has provided this for wind); (ii) building standards to be raised in line with EU laws, where buildings are required to consume nearly zero energy by 2020; (iii) permitted development to all rooftop solar PV installations over 50 kW (this is already in effect for installations up to 1 MW in the rest of the U.K.); and (iv) exception from business rates in Scotland, like gas CHP.

STA Scotland did welcome the acknowledgement of the need to address grid issues, the use of renewable heat technologies for houses off the gas grid, as this will boost solar thermal, and the electric vehicle (EV) ambitions, which will rely on solar.

According to the government, at the end of last June, there were 3,575 electric cars and vans licensed in Scotland, while it said more EVs were sold in Scotland in 2015 than the previous four years combined, and 2016 sales are expected to have risen further.

A few more details from the strategy

The Scottish Government says that in 2016, renewables covered 54% of total Scottish electricity consumption. Meanwhile, in 2009, a target was set to have renewables cover 30% of the country’s heat, transport and electricity consumption by 2020. It reached 17.8% in 2015.

A big focus in the new energy strategy is on shared ownership, which is expected to play a key role in meeting the government’s targets of 1 GW of community and locally-owned energy by 2020 and 2 GW by 2030.

In a nod to Brexit, the government said that being part of an internal European energy market is “vitally important, as it safeguards our energy security, means lower costs for households and businesses and helps create jobs and investment.” It added that the legally binding EU targets have played a central role in Scotland’s renewables growth.

Regarding funding, the government noted that its Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) has invested £60 million over the past five years to support more than 20 projects. In 2018-19, it will add up to £20 million as it broadens its scope beyond renewables to include low carbon energy solutions as an Energy Investment Fund.

Overall, six energy priorities have been identified in the strategy:

  1. Promote consumer engagement and protect from excessive costs
  2. Energy efficiency improvements
  3. Resilient and flexible energy supplies
  4. Community support of local energy systems and networks
  5. Create new jobs and supply chain opportunities
  6. Support investment and innovation across oil and gas