By Colin Ley, The Renewables Guardian

A recent surge of interest in solar by the public sector in Scotland is raising hopes of a brighter future for the energy source north of the Border.

Edinburgh-based renewable energy developer, Andrew Lyle, says the past few months have produced a sharp rise in solar interest by regional and local authorities and other public bodies.

“The FiT clock is obviously ticking, with current levels of support only guaranteed for installations carried out before April 2012,” he said.  “Questions are obviously being asked within many public bodies concerning the solar opportunities which currently exist, but which may not be available in the future.  As a result, several authorities are looking to make a move into solar before the 2012 FiT review takes effect.

“The additional fact that councils can now export surplus electricity, something they couldn’t do in the past, has also helped to create a more attractive environment for public solar projects.”

Mr Lyle is head of Locogen, a renewable energy development company whose successes to date include a 120kW solar photovoltaic project for Ingliston Country Club, Renfrewshire. The largest solar installation in Scotland at the time, the Ingliston project was completed just two weeks before this year’s July FiT deadline.

“There is approximately a one-two year difference in life-cycle payback period between a Scottish project and a project in the south of England,” he said. “That is quite significant when payback periods are approximately seven-eight years in Scotland. Despite this, it’s really the next levels at which FiTs are set by the Government which will decide the future of the solar energy market in Scotland, not the extra payback time.

“In fact, FiT rates must be set to ensure the solar market in Scotland does not collapse after only one year of healthy growth.”

Mr Lyle added that when his company started looking at the Ingliston project, they considered all possible options before settling on solar as the clear best choice.

“Wind, biomass and ground source heat were all ruled out for reasons of unsuitability,” he said.  “As one of Scotland’s top equestrian centres, however, the club’s complex included some gigantic south-facing roofs which are absolutely ideal for solar.

“There are many more locations in Scotland which are equally suitable. In fact, the solar market here is huge, as the recent surge in interest from the public sector shows.”

Falling PV panel costs, coinciding with rising questions surrounding wind power in Scotland, also appears to be having an impact.

“We recently took part in a renewables event for farmers where there was a substantial amount of interest in solar, far more than at similar events in the past,” said Mr Lyle. “Delegates tended to be finding an increasing number of points on which to question wind power; such as the variability of wind resources, recent over-selling of wind turbines and talk of developments which are not living up to expectations.

Combine this with the planning risk associated with taking on a wind development and solar is viewed by many as a much more hassle-free option.

“The future of solar is definitely on the rise in Scotland. Converting current potential into reality, however, will depend heavily on the Government’s next Fit decision.”