It’s all too easy to scoff at solar power in Scotland – but falling panel prices and more enlightened attitudes mean the technology can now play a huge helping hand on our journey to a greener future.
Solar pv panels which generate electricity are now commonplace on homes across the country, but there is another solar system whose potential has hardly been tapped north of the border.
Solar thermal panels use even tiny amounts of sunlight to generate heat which can be used to slash fossil fuel bills in homes, offices and public buildings.
In January (2015) Aberdeen saw enough sunshine to generate an estimated 45% of an average household’s hot water needs.
Douglas Haigh from Scottish heating experts Begetube – who have been designing solar thermal systems in Scotland since 2010 – said:
“Most dwellings can have at least some solar assistance to generate hot water for domestic use. Depending on the collectors and hot water cylinder size, energy savings can be in the 50-60% range.”
“Larger properties and commercial premises can go a lot further, and if the space is available for large thermal stores to connect into the heating system then the savings on both fuel costs and CO2 emissions will be significant.”
Perth College, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, installed a 20m2 array of panels on each of three student residences to reduce heating bills and reduce carbon emissions.
The scheme is estimated to produce around 37,000kWh of heat a year, displacing an equivalent amount of gas usage. The college estimate this will save around £1,000 per year at current prices, although the cost savings are likely to increase significantly when fossil fuel prices rise in the future.
Begetube’s Douglas Haigh continued:
“Energy from the sun is strongest at the equator and reduces towards the polar regions. Europe lies between these two points and benefits enormously from solar energy.”
“The United Kingdom’s share varies from 1,200W per square metre in the south of England to 850W per square metre in the north of Scotland. My experience of systems in Inverness, at latitude 57˚ north, show quite clearly that even this far north the benefits of installing a solar thermal space heating system make it financially worthwhile.”
Solar thermal panels qualify for payments under the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. The scheme is designed to reward those who use renewable energy to heat their buildings, and comes in two parts – one for residential homes and one for the non-domestic sector, which covers industrial, commercial, public sector and community buildings.
As an example, figures from Which? show householders in an average two-bedroom semi-detached home could save £266 a year by installing solar thermal panels.
Stephanie Clark, Policy Manager, Onshore Renewables at industry body Scottish Renewables, told how green heating solutions are crucial if the country wants to hit ambitious 2020 climate change targets.
“With 55% of our energy use in Scotland made up of heat, the need for greener heating solutions is clear.”
“Scottish Government targets already support our transition to a low carbon economy, and solar thermal is one of a range of technologies which can help us meet our 2020 commitments, as well as saving money along the way.”