Key solar PV locations in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Competing with Cornwall on large-scale solar might be a challenge. Competing with Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond on wind energy may also be difficult. But finally, Scotland has entered the large-scale solar PV age.

Scotland has one of the most aggressive renewables targets of any country, targeting 100% of energy consumption from renewables by 2020. Scotland still needs to install another 10GW of capacity to meet that target, with 50% of electricity consumption still coming from fossil fuels and nuclear.

Solar is rarely mentioned in the noise when renewable energies are debated at Holyrood in Edinburgh. In fact, all the talk is wind. Scotland is wind-crazy.

Public attention tends to be further distorted. The media is full of the ongoing battle between Donald Trump and the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP had previously supported the economic benefits of Donald Trump’s US$1 billion golfing complex north of Aberdeen, and had overruled initial local council planning objections that the complex would be built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, the SNP then backed a European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre that would be visible by residents at the Trump International Golf Links at Menie Estate, near Balmedie. Mr. Trump was less than amused.

So the recent installation of a large-scale ground-mount solar PV plant in Dalkeith, just outside Edinburgh, is all the more poignant. But within a few miles of the new large-scale solar PV installation in Dalkeith lie two other landmarks for Scottish PV: one from the past, and one for the future.

Selective Emitter Cells in Edinburgh in 2005

Napier College’s Merchiston campus in south Edinburgh was, back in 2005, the site of one the UK’s largest PV installations at the time. A 156-panel building-mounted installation on the south facing wall of the Jack Kilby Computing Centre was a joint partnership between the School of Engineering and the Energy Saving Trust (EST). The EST was one of a few pots that could then be accessed to deploy solar PV in the UK.

It was not simply notable that this installation was one of the largest in the UK at the time (and definitely Scotland’s largest by far), it was also the home of 156 high-efficiency selective-emitter mono c-Si modules; the Saturn laser-grooved buried contact (LGBC) technology that was the forerunner to Suntech’s Pluto cell technology and was based upon BP-Solar’s licencinglicensing and technology-transfer agreement with the University of New South Wales.

At the time, the UK Department of Trade and Industry’s New and Renewable Energy programme was actually funding a consortium of solar cell manufacturing in the UK, under the Advanced Laser Processing for Industrial Solar Cell Manufacturing (Alpinism) project. This project was led by BP-Solar and included the former Exitech, one of the leading laser materials processing suppliers based outside Oxford.

In fact, BP-Solar’s Sunbury research lab was one of the leading PV R&D labs globally at the time, supporting BP-Solar’s research into high-efficiency selective-emitter production (ultimately inherited at the former Tres Cantos site). Sunbury also was the home to BP-Solar’s Apollo activities in CdTe thin-film research, the technology for which had been acquired from Santa Monica-based Monosolar, and complemented BP-Solar’s CdTe pilot line activities in Fairfield, California. By 2002, all CdTe activity had been terminated by BP-Solar as uneconomic.

Between 2002 and 2009, BP-Solar manufactured approximately 130MW of Saturn selective emitter c-Si cells/modules. For a short time, BP-Solar was the only cell manufacturer with high-efficiency production lines that could be spoken about in the same breath as SunPower and Sanyo.

In fact, almost every part of the value chain and the supply chain for Saturn cells was made in Europe or made in the US. How times have changed.

Dalkeith Solar Farm, near Rosslyn Chapel

Fast forward to 2013 and the UK has moved from kilowatt solar PV showcases within a policy-constrained renewables landscape to a DECC-championed, ROC-enabled solar farm frenzy that has propelled the UK to add more than 0.5GW of new solar PV during the first three months of 2013.

Scotland’s first solar farm is the 0.6MW ground-mount installation at Edinburgh College’s Dalkeith Midlothian campus, adding to the several megawatts of PV installs done in Scotland in the past 18-24 months.

During the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, new railway lines from Dalkeith transported coal, minerals and farm produce into Edinburgh. For those still not able to place Dalkeith on the global solar map: prog-rock followers may know it fondly as Marillion lead singer Fish’s birthplace; fiction readers and movie goers can place it a few miles from Rosslyn Chapel where Tom Hanks ends up at the conclusion of the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code.

The modules used at the Dalkeith Solar Farm are standard 245W multi c-Si modules, manufactured in Hangzhou, China with a sales price a fraction of the BP-Solar modules used at the Napier site. While the installed system price tag for the Dalkeith installation - at approximately $2.9/W - may be well below the Napier price level, one wonders whether either solar module manufacturer saw any positive margins through their respective supply deals.

The local press in Scotland has reported on Scotland’s first solar farm with some pessimism, spending more time on Scotland’s climate and the £1.2 million price tag than on the economics involved. In fact, as a hedge against rising electricity prices and with near double-digit returns over 20 years, solar farms are simply money earners for the owners and this fact has been completely overlooked by the same media that constantly remind us of the utilities’ profits and the meagre returns on offer from the banking sector’s tax-free savings accounts.

IKEA Rooftops Prime for Deployment Now

The tag of Scotland’s largest solar PV installation by Dalkeith may be a short-lived claim however. Less than five miles to the east lies one of two IKEA stores in Scotland. Opened in 1999, the IKEA store at the Straiton Retail Park in Loanhead complements IKEA’s second site in Glasgow opened in 2001. Each of these plants is included within IKEA’s global renewables strategy that has all IKEA stores consuming all their energy needs from renewables, and being 100% energy neutral by 2020.

In the US for example, IKEA has installed large-scale roof-mounted solar plants across its stores in 17 different states ranging from 200 kW to 2.7 MW in size. An additional three are currently in construction in the US that would get to a total solar PV installed by IKEA in the US at the 90% level (or 38 MW).

In fact, the timing for IKEA to roll out large-scale roof-mounted plants at all their UK based stores could not be better. The rooftop-specific ROC incentive rates have recently been introduced by DECC, and the 5 MW rooftop installation at Bentley Motor’s plant in Crewe, Lancashire by Solarcentury has shown how ROCs are now an attractive means of enabling the large-scale industrial rooftop segment in the UK.

While the previous installations at Napier and Dalkeith were ultimately funded out of tax-payer’s money through academia, deployment by IKEA of large-scale solar in Scotland is likely to provide the necessary credibility to alert local politicians and the media to the economic benefit of large-scale solar deployment going forward.