Solar’s role within the Scottish Government’s New Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan
Back in January 2023, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy, and Transport, Michael Matheson MSP, presented the “Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan” draft to the Scottish Parliament.
This plan sets forth Scotland’s green energy transition ambitions and targets for increasing renewable production and capacity on its way to net zero by 2045. Through a combination of wind, hydro, and solar, Scotland hopes to increase its domestic supply of renewable energy and produce a surplus for export.
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Let’s take a closer look at the plan and how solar fits into the bigger picture of Scotland’s renewable energy push.
This new plan has been put forth with three main objectives in mind:
Significantly increase renewable energy production and aid the move away from fossil fuels
Secure increased and continued investment into the net-zero economy
Deliver a fairer and more secure energy system that reduces costs and is not reliant on volatile commodities markets
Scotland hopes to achieve these three objectives by increasing its renewable energy generation capacity by 20 GW by 2030, with at least 2 GW being community owned. Scotland currently has an installed renewable energy generation capacity of 13.4 GW, so if this target is met, it will represent a significant increase in renewable energy production in the country.
In fact, if Scotland does meet this goal, it is projected that the new capacity will be able to produce roughly 50% of the country’s energy requirements. Additionally, this increased capacity will create thousands of new jobs in the low-carbon energy sector and open up opportunities for the export of surplus power.
By 2030, Scotland hopes to:
Increase onshore wind from 8.78 GW to over 20 GW
Increase offshore wind from 1.9 GW to 8 - 11 GW
Increase pumped hydro storage and tidal energy, and wave energy
Increase green hydrogen production and capacity
Scotland currently has 411 MW of installed capacity from solar PV. Unlike other renewable sources, the new plan does not set a specific target for increasing solar capacity in the country. This is despite the fact that Solar Energy Scotland has called for Scotland to set a goal of increasing solar capacity to 4 - 6 GW by 2030.
This strategy was set out in a letter to the Scottish government signed by cross-party Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and Solar Energy Scotland. This target of 4 - 6 GW would align Scotland with the UK-wide goal of reaching 70 GW capacity by 2035.
However, this is not to say that the Scottish government is ignoring solar. Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised a “clear vision” for the future of Scottish solar, and it is seen as a key part of the country’s green energy transition.
On the part of the new Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, a “final solar vision” has been promised later in 2023, hopefully outlining a roadmap for the future of Scottish solar.
Although there are currently no concrete targets for Scottish solar, that does not mean nothing is in the works. The Scottish government has acknowledged a “significant appetite for greater solar deployment in Scotland.” To back this claim up, they have cited the 767 MW of PV capacity currently in the deployment pipeline.
Once these new projects are up and running, it would represent an increase of 150% in Scotland’s solar generation capacity. This is, of course, a significant increase, but given the relatively low capacity in actual terms, it is clear that more could be done.
Solar Energy Scotland has proposed that the target of 6 GW could be met through the combination of the following:
3.5 GW of ground-mounted utility-scale installations
1 GW on commercial-scale rooftops
1.5 GW mounted on homes
Scotland has a great deal of potential for solar installations with its vast amount of uninhabited land that could be used for new projects. However, it is important to acknowledge that much of this land is located in the Highlands and may not be suitable for large-scale solar development.
This is why it is important to look at using other options for installing PV panels, such as on rooftops and homes. Not only will this allow for more solar to be installed, but through the use of subsidy schemes like those seen in Spain, there is the potential to incentivize consumers to help with the clean energy transition by reducing their own energy bills.
Speaking of incentivization, the Scottish government has included solar energy systems in the non-domestic rates scheme. This change was included in the 2023-24 Scottish budget and has been welcomed by Solar Energy Scotland and MSPs as a step towards “a different, more progressive path for Scotland.”
With this inclusion, new solar projects will be exempt from non-domestic rates until 2025, greatly reducing the cost of new solar installations. It is hoped that with this inclusion, Scotland will see a more rapid and greater adoption of solar energy over the next few years.
All that being said, there is still a need for clear targets to be set, as seen with wind power. Without these specific targets in place, solar will continue to lag behind other renewables in Scotland. It will leave the country with a significant gap in its potential to generate electricity from clean sources.
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