Tuesday 22 February 2022

How Progressive Building Regulations Made Scotland a Solar Powerhouse


Statistics recently published by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) show how much solar PV different regions in the UK installed in 2021.  Scotland really stood out from the pack, with more than 25% of all installations.  However, because the graphic only showed the number of installations, and didn't take into account the population of each region it doesn't really do justice to the wide differences between different parts of the UK.

The Solarblogger has restated the figures above as the number of installations in 2021 per 100,000 of population in the region (the blue boxes).  

On this measure you can see that Scotland is installing two times more solar per head of population than the next nearest UK region (the South West) and more than three times the national average.

Compared to laggards like Northern Ireland and London, Scotland is installing more than ten times more solar PV installations per capita.  What is behind this incredible performance?

In 2015, Scotland brought in new building regulations that required housebuilders to construct homes that were significantly more energy efficient than those being built in the rest of the UK.  A year later George Osborne killed off the Zero Carbon Homes policy and developers in England have been building to performance levels largely unchanged from 2010 ever since.

The preferred option of housebuilders in Scotland has been to meet the regulations with a combination of improved thermal insulation and airtightness, combined with a solar PV on the roof (or to be more accurate a solar PV installation in the roof).  As housing developments started under previous regulations came to an end and new projects started up that needed to meet the new regulations, the proportion of homes built with solar rose from around 10% before the regulations to nearly 70% in 2020.

According to an analysis of the EPC database in Scotland by Kevin McCann at Solar Energy UK, of the 15,447 EPCs registered for new homes in Scotland in 2020, 10,324 listed solar PV as an energy efficiency measure.

So of the 16,437 Scottish solar PV installations registered with MCS in 2021, it is likely that at least 10,324 were new homes, which would leave 6,113 that were retro-fitted to existing buildings. 

Taking this retrofit figure per head of population alone would give Scotland a score of 112 installations per 100,000 people - still impressive but it is clear that Scotland's stand out performance in solar PV installation has been driven by the building regulations for new homes.

In 2021 it is possible that there was an even higher figure for solar on new homes than that we have for 2020.   Lockdowns paralysed the construction industry for a good part of 2020, and 16,000 new homes is some way behind the long run average of around 20,000.  So the contribution to Scotland's performance from Building Regulations is likely to be higher still.

The good news is that regulations for England and Wales will soon exceed those in Scotland, with new regulations in England coming into force this June.  When that happens we should see solar PV installations per capita start to close the gap with those in Scotland.