Scottish company convinced The Queen to embrace solar power

George Goudsmit, managing director of AES Solar, said the UK still lags behind Europe in embracing renewable energy. Picture: Marc Hindley
George Goudsmit, managing director of AES Solar, said the UK still lags behind Europe in embracing renewable energy. Picture: Marc Hindley
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With clients ranging from The Queen to the Scottish Parliament, a small company in Forres has been playing a leading role in Scotland’s renewables revolution for more than three decades.

AES Solar is the longest running solar thermal manufacturer in Western Europe, offering a range of bespoke systems to domestic and commercial clients capable of generating heat or electricity.

Such is its reputation, the Moray-based firm’s technology can be found in both Holyrood and Balmoral, The Queen’s private estate in Royal Deeside.

Founded in 1979 as Weatherwise by the late Lyle Schnadt, the company quickly diversified into heating systems for country homes after discovering there was not yet much demand for solar panels.

That all changed when it was bought in 1989 by Dutch businessman George Goudsmit, who changed the firm’s name and decided to focus on solar technology.

While promoting green technology is now a Government-priority north and south of the border, the market for renewables was very different in the early 1990s.

“It was not a fantastically booming market,” Goudsmit told the Scotland on Sunday. “The only people buying solar panels then were those concerned about the environment.

“But our strength today is our longevity as a manufacturer. No one has been going this long.”

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It was not until the mid-2000s that Goudsmit detected a rising domestic demand in the UK for solar technology. But despite the long wait, he took faith from growth in countries like Germany and Denmark, both early adopters of green energy.

“It was continental market that kept me going,” he said. “The UK has been extremely slow on the uptake with solar energy, especially Scotland.

“There has always been this myth that because of its location and weather, the technology won’t work here. But the fact of the matter is solar energy can heat water to 28 or 29 degrees even in the depths of winter.

“As an industry, we have to increase awareness among the public that solar does work in the UK.”

AES made its name designing and manufacturing solar thermal technology, which produces heat, but almost ran into trouble when the Government began to offer huge incentives for photovoltaics (PV) systems capable of generating electricity.

“We were very lucky as we saw the change coming,” Goudsmit added. “We were able to diversify quickly so we could also install PV.

“We have an extremely strong design team. No matter who comes to us, we can design and manufacture systems to suit. We can cater for a two-person house, or something much bigger.”

Goudsmit speaks with obvious pride of the firm’s “most prestigious” installation at Balmoral.

The MD was introduced to The Queen at an official function on the Isles of Scilly in 2015. “We had a chat and I later wrote to Buckingham Palace and we received a call. You don’t slip someone like that your business card.”