SNP ministers and the Scottish Greens are being urged to set a “stretching but achievable” target to massively increase Scotland’s capacity for solar power as part of formal powersharing talks.
Solar power currently only has the capacity to provide 372MW (megawatts) of electricity in Scotland but industry leaders believe that could be upped to 6GW (gigawatts) – or 6000MW – by the end of the decade.
Solar Energy Scotland argues such a move could help boost the economy, saying every gigawatt of new solar capacity delivers more than £600m in additional economic activity and creates 500 full-time equivalent jobs.
The organisation has pressed the issue in a letter to both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the co-leaders of the Scottish Greens, as the two parties are currently in discussions on a possible formal co-operation agreement that could see Greens join the Scottish Cabinet.
Scotland’s response to the climate emergency is one of the areas under discussion in those talks.
The Scottish Government has set a target of offshore wind power potentially supplying 11GW of electricity by 2030, and Solar Energy Scotland argues a similarly ambitious goal should be set for its sector.
Chairman Thomas McMillan said: “We know that climate action and a just transition are on the table for the ongoing talks between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.
“We have today contacted the leadership of both parties to politely remind them that any discussion of Scotland’s energy future must include a renewed focus on what solar can deliver.”
He insisted a “stretching but feasible 2030 target” for solar power is needed “like the one ministers have already set for offshore wind”.
Calling for a formal target of 4-6GW to be set, McMillan added: “The right scale of ambition there will help smooth the path for appropriate solar projects, large and small.
“That in turn will allow us to create hundreds of new jobs and invest in a bigger Scottish supply chain, while contributing to this country’s climate objectives.
“Whatever the outcome of the talks, a renewed focus on solar will be essential if Scotland is to decarbonise heat, transport and industry while maintaining affordable energy bills.
“When wind power is producing its lowest levels of energy, solar is at its most productive. We are now the cheapest renewable technology out there. We are confident that all parties at Holyrood want to see that potential unlocked.”
Countries on a similar latitude to Scotland, such as Northern Ireland and Denmark, already have far great solar energy capacity, McMillan said, noting the Nissum Fjord project in Denmark – which will operate without any public subsidy – will produce more output than the solar sector in Scotland with 400MW.
Josh King, vice-chair of Solar Energy Scotland and director of Moray-based manufacturer and installer AES Solar, said Scotland has already committed to having no new gas-heated homes from 2025 and for one million homes to be on low-carbon heating by 2030.
He added: “The sector is ready with the skills, the technology and the investment to bring substantial new solar projects on to the grid.
“Operating in a part of the country which is starting to feel the impact of the declining fossil fuel industry, there is a clear opportunity for upskilling and reskilling into a powerful solar industry.
“With the right ambition and the right regulatory framework, we could have a Scottish solar sector by 2030 that’s on the same sort of scale that Denmark already enjoys.”
Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said the party is “committed to delivering a green recovery from Covid, and supporting the rapid growth of the renewable energy industry will play a central role in this”.
He added: “While electricity has already been largely decarbonised, over the coming decade we will be switching to electric vehicles and heating systems so we need to continue to deliver more renewables if we are to meet our climate targets.
“Solar is the cheapest energy source available and it could play a key role here in Scotland, so we will be looking at how we can unlock growth in this sector and reverse the damage done by the Tory Government, who pushed the industry off a cliff by ending subsidies with no warning and just as the industry was establishing itself.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of energy generated from solar photovoltaic systems in contributing to the decarbonisation of Scotland’s energy supply and to a just transition to net zero by 2045.
“We actively encourage and promote solar energy as a source of renewable electricity and renewable heat across various policy initiatives and projects, and we provide funding for solar projects through a range of programmes, including the SME loan fund scheme and the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme.
“We remain committed to continuing to work with the solar energy sector to provide a supportive policy framework which aids continuing growth and deployment.”