BLOG: Solar energy, a vital part of the renewables mix I Roddy Speirs

28 August 2023

As rising emissions continue to threaten our planet, Roddy Speirs, Project Manager, talks about the importance of solar energy…

“It might not have felt like it in much of Scotland, but July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute.  Even if we didn’t get quite as much of the heat here as we might have liked, I’m sure we all saw the pictures from around the rest of Europe with tragic wildfires and scorching temperatures.  There is no doubt that man-made climate change is happening now and is not some far-off future event. It is an existential threat.

Roddy Speirs. solar devleopment Project Manager

But what can we do about it?  Here at Scottish Water, we’re both caring and bold in our ambitions. We care for each other; we care for our customers and we care for the planet.  Reducing our carbon footprint in everything we do has long been something we’ve aimed for.  As part of this, we at Scottish Water Horizons have been installing solar panels on Scottish Water’s assets for over ten years now.  When we started solar panels were broadly seen as desirable, but not essential. During the past few years, all this has changed.  Almost everyone now realises that renewable energy generation is part of the solution in the fight to lower our carbon footprint and combat climate change. But what a lot of people might not be aware of are the other benefits that we get from installing solar panels on our assets.

Reducing costs and increasing flexibility

Firstly, solar energy saves money.  Although solar panels have an up-front capital cost, they are designed to last a long time.  We base our calculations on an operational life of 25 years, but modern solar panels are being guaranteed by some manufacturers to last 30 years. The panels pay for themselves several times over during their lifetime.  If there are times when the panels are generating more power than our sites can use, this extra electricity is exported to the grid, earning Scottish Water money which is then invested into more green technologies. The higher electricity prices rise, the more money these panels are saving Scottish Water, which in turn helps keep customer charges among the lowest in the UK.

Many people also talk about the grid decarbonising in Scotland, which is fantastic, due to the increased deployment of renewable energy. It is important that we continue to deploy more renewable energy projects because with the move to electrification of heat and transport more renewable power is needed.

lnstallatiion of Scottish Water’s largest PV scheme at Balmore was completed earlier this year.

Another benefit of being able to produce our own power is that we are less dependent on importing electricity.  We have seen how events far off in Eastern Europe have impacted on electricity pricing for all of us.  The more electricity we can generate the greater our energy security and the less impacted we will be on any future events beyond our control.

Supporting green jobs and biodiversity

Plus there is the economic growth angle.  Installing solar panels supports local, green jobs.  All our solar partners are headquartered in Scotland, providing employment opportunities to local people, upskilling to meet growing demand, employing Modern Apprentices and helping to boost the Scottish Economy.

Even the local wildlife can benefit from solar panels.  Recent studies have shown that panels can provide shelter for small mammals like field mice and voles as well as birds and insects, helping to protect the biodiversity of our sites. I’ve got a project in Aberdeen right now where I will be looking to improve the biodiversity as a key component of the solar project.

Jamie MacEwan, Modern Apprentice with FES Group

Whilst we are proud of what we have achieved so far, we are also bold in our ambitions. We are increasing the pace of delivery, scale, and volume of our schemes.  We are constantly on the look-out for new technologies to help improve the output of our solar schemes such as innovative bifacial panels (which produce electricity from both sides of the panel) and battery energy storage. 

We are exploring new opportunities by working with solar contractors who are committed to lowering the carbon footprint of our installations through innovations such as solar-powered welfare cabins or using HVO (hydro-treated Vegetable Oil) to power equipment during construction.

Expanding the installation of solar panels on as many of our assets as we can is a vital component in helping Scottish Water reach its net zero targets by 2040.   Whilst solar energy is still not free, it certainly doesn’t cost the Earth.”

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