JOKES about the Scottish weather are as old as the hills, but now an Edinburgh-based renewable energy developer wants to show that grey clouds won’t stop the nation from hosting solar energy parks.
Vento Ludens plans to build the country’s first commercial-scale solar farm, which would cover about 30 hectares and could generate 15MW of power, enough to supply electricity to around 3,700 homes.
The company is searching for a site in the south of Scotland for the project, which would feed electricity into the national grid and could be built on farmland or other open countryside.
While the idea of building a solar farm in Scotland may raise eyebrows, the firm points out that the southern parts of the country sit at a similar latitude to Germany, one of the world’s biggest generators of power from the sun.
It also says that while England may enjoy more sunshine, Scotland benefits from longer hours of daylight.
“It may seem surprising to anyone who’s spent a dreich summer’s day on Portobello beach that Scotland can produce power from the sun’s rays but it is in fact true,” said Jay Butler, managing director of Vento Ludens. “We like a challenge and we want this project to stimulate interest in all types of renewable energy.”
Earlier this month, Vento Ludens was granted planning permission to build a 15MW solar farm, one of the largest in the UK, at Glebe Farm near Bedford. Work on the project is expected to begin in October, with the site opening in April next year.
Butler wants to add bat and bird nesting boxes to her solar farms and even install beehives for nearby residents to use.
At its site in Bedford, the company is applying for permission to erect an “eco-building” – made out of straw bales or similar materials – as its base on the site, which could be used as a bird hide or an environmental classroom for schoolchildren.
The firm, which was founded in 2008 and now employs 12 staff in Edinburgh, plans to open an office in Bristol later this year, creating three jobs.
Vento Ludens is owned by the German firm behind board game and jigsaw puzzle maker Ludo Fact. The firm’s other renewable energy projects in Scotland include wind farms at Edintore in Moray and Muirake in Aberdeenshire.
Barny Evans, renewables and energy efficiency manager at WSP, a global engineering and environmental consultancy, said solar energy continues to attract investment, with returns of 8 to 12 per cent still available. Projects generating up to 5MW of power receive subsidies under the feed-in tariff scheme, while larger projects are covered by renewable obligation certificates.
Evans said: “Solar is attractive because it’s an established technology and so can be cheaper and quicker to install than wind. It’s attractive to companies that have large warehouses, where panels can be attached to the roofs.”
Tom Betts, a lecturer at Loughborough University’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology, explained that the power output from solar panels – or photo-voltaics (PVs) – was related to the intensity of sunlight.
“So on cloudy days a PV system will still produce energy – just a smaller amount than clear days,” Betts said.
“I’ve recently been looking at the long-term solar energy resources for the UK, and different parts of Scotland had between 5 and 10 per cent lower than the Midlands. This will translate to almost the same reduction in electrical energy output from solar farms.
“The economics of this scale of solar PV system are quite favourable, however, so it is unlikely to kill a project – if the build costs are lower in Scotland, then the investment could be even as good as elsewhere in the UK.”
News of Vento Ludens’ plans comes just weeks after Edinburgh College opened its “solar meadow” at its Midlothian campus in Dalkeith. The 2,500 solar panels will power the campus.