Solar Energy Scotland – formerly the Solar Trade Association – has appointed a new chair.
Thomas McMillan, Savills UK’s head of energy consultancy based in Perth, has worked on renewables technologies across the UK for more than a decade.
Solar Energy Scotland is a sub-committee of the Solar Energy UK board, and a working group.
The group focuses on accelerating Scotland’s energy transformation by removing planning barriers, addressing grid constraints, reforming non-domestic rates and more.
It has been championing solar energy in Scotland since 2014, with McMillan taking over from Chris Clark, director of Emtec Group, who chaired the group as the Solar Trade Association from 2017 to 2020.
Josh King, operations director at AES Solar, has taken on the role of vice-chair.
Solar Energy UK is the UK’s trade association for solar energy and has been in operation since 1978, with a membership that spans the entire UK solar value chain.
Explaining why he took up the role, McMillan said that in Scotland solar is regularly overlooked, but has huge potential in helping to meet the country’s ambitious net zero targets.
Scotland’s electricity generation is now equivalent to approximately 90% of electricity consumption, yet over the same timescale, only 372MW of solar has been installed – meaning it represents just 3% of all renewables in Scotland.
“The lack of investment into solar is a uniquely Scottish problem in the context of the British isles,” McMillan said, noting that 13GW of solar has now been deployed across the UK as a whole.
Scotland’s contribution represents 2.5%, despite the fact the county constitutes a third of the landmass.
“Some people might argue that we have far more wind and rain here, and that this explains the subsequent gulf in technology and lack of solar deployment, but it is perception rather than fact that is the key contributing factor here, casting a shadow over the Scottish sector and negatively influencing investors and policy makers alike.
“If you take my home country of Fife on the East coast as an example, solar irradiance is 96% of that found around Birmingham,” he added.
The Scottish Government has prioritised both affordable housing and fuel poverty, so McMillan argued that with solar panels now able to deliver low carbon electricity more cheaply than mains electricity, “the sector has an open door on which to knock”.
He conceded that a lack of political focus on solar energy has been a critical block to solar development in Scotland for many years.
“Solar developers and investors face a lack of permitted development rights in Scotland, compared to England and Wales, along with excessive planning fees, making the planning process hugely challenging.
“With key barriers removed, Scotland is well placed to grow solar energy deployment to 4GW, more than 10 times current levels by the end of the decade – not only would this contribute towards the country’s net zero ambitions but it would also create up to 6,000 highly skilled low carbon jobs for the Scottish economy.”
McMillan concluded: “As the new chair of Solar Energy Scotland I will be calling on the Scottish Government to set an ambitious solar deployment target for 2030 so that real focus can be given to dismantling the development barriers that are holding back the industry.”