Opinion: The SNP’s Rather Dull Approach to Solar Energy.

Solar panels have been named one of the key routes to reach net zero carbon emissions in Scotland, so why is there not more push for further solar installation? 

Back in 2016, the Scottish Government introduced new building standards that required that new build homes must include energy saving measures such as solar panels. This was accompanied by the Statement of Sustainability which enforces that every new build must have a sustainability label following the guidance in the building standards handbook. The handbook outlines the different levels homes and public buildings can be categorised under dependant on their carbon emission and renewability factors.

Data Source: Renewable Electricity Capacity and Generation, Scottish Government (March 2022)

The introduction of the new standards saw a large rise in solar panel installation, a 13 percent rise in 2017 from the previous year, and it has continued to grow immensely with 70 percent of homes having now incorporated solar by 2021. The influx in solar installation was caused by three primary reasons: the first being the continuously falling price of solar panels. Secondly, the removal of planning permission to have them installed and lastly The Smart Export Agreement (SEG). The agreement allows homeowners with solar panels to earn money, an estimated £600 per annum, by exporting energy back to the national grid.

However, the SNP’s insertion of new regulations was rather vague and allowed for loopholes for the building trade. Since the Statement of Sustainability is based on the carbon emissions of the building and the regulations only state ‘energy performance features’ it has caused many homes to be built with less efficient features. 

These can include thermal insulation, air tightness values and low energy light fittings, although these fittings may make a difference they do not demonstrate anywhere near the same results as solar panels or solar thermal systems. By having a nonprescriptive approach, it allows experimentation within the building trade to achieve the overall goal in the best way for them. However, this is usually reduced down to the cheapest and fastest way, instead of the most effective.

Data source: Housing Statistics Quarterly Update, Scottish Government, (2022).

Demonstrated by last years’ data, 14,859 new homes were built in Scotland and only 60 percent had solar incorporated (8,915.4 homes). Now, 60 percent is not a number to be grumbled at, Scotland is paving the way for solar energy and the figures remain much lower in our English and Welsh counterparts. But why is there not more ambition from the government when momentum is high on climate change, carbon emissions and not to forget the skyrocketing energy prices the country is facing, to enforce what is being named a key player in reaching net-zero targets?

The Solar Trade Association has made multiple calls for a roll-out of solar panels on all new build homes and refurbishments in the public building sector. They say that it would drastically improve Scotland’s renewable energy production and progression towards becoming net-zero. 

However, only 22 percent of Scottish Government buildings have had solar panels fitted in the last few years, mainly due to building incompatibility for installation. 

Conservative spokesperson, Liam Kerr, stated: “it would be understandable if a small proportion of buildings couldn’t have solar panels installed- but four in five Scottish government owned buildings to fall into this category is beyond belief.” The Conservative Party remain explicably unpopular in Scotland, however in this case there is a collective agreement that the SNP governments hypocrisy when it comes to reducing carbon emissions is rather blatant.

Further increasing Scotland’s use of solar panels does not hold many, if any, downfalls, so when the whole world is in a race against climate change why are we not utilising the tools we have to their full potential?

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