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Revealed: how Glasgow will be Scotland's first Solar City

It may be hard to believe, but sunshine is going to transform Glasgow into one of the world's greenest cities.

Glasgow City Council is about to launch a project to identify sites for solar farms on 400 patches of wasteland scattered across the city. The plan is to install arrays of solar panels to generate clean electricity on vacant or derelict sites owned by the council.

Despite the sun's relatively rare appearance in the sky over Scotland's largest city, experts say tapping its rays for power in this way will play a vital role in ensuring a low-pollution future for Glasgow.

The initiative has been enthusiastically welcomed by renewable energy experts and companies, who see a bright future for solar power across Scotland.

Edinburgh is looking at putting solar farms in disused quarries and on pit bings or slag heaps, and 16 major solar electricity projects have won planning approval elsewhere in Scotland in the last two years.

Scotland already has 116 megawatts of solar capacity from more than 31,000 installations, mostly panels on the roofs of peoples' homes. But this is seen by many as just the start.

Glasgow City Council has teamed up with Strathclyde University to conduct a comprehensive survey of 550 hectares of city land that is currently not being used. Sites will be assessed to see which ones could accommodate mini solar farms.

Solar farms are arrays of photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on the ground and designed to capture the sun's radiation and turn it into electricity. According to the solar industry, just one hectare of panels can produce enough electricity to power up to 150 homes.

One brownfield gap site that might be suitable is the former meat market in the east end of Glasgow. Three areas covering 5.2 hectares bounded by Bellgrove Street and Duke Street will be evaluated to pinpoint where best to generate electricity.

Detailed maps of hundreds of other pockets of land across the city will be similarly assessed. The results will be published so that communities, businesses or the council can decide where to install ground-mounted PV arrays.

Councillor Alastair Watson, Glasgow City Council's executive member for sustainability, said the city was keen to boost green energy. "Glasgow may not be the sunniest city in the world but there are already hundreds of solar arrays on buildings around the city which can harness diffused sunlight to generate electricity even when it's cloudy, he said."

All 700 new properties at the Commonwealth Games Athletes' Village - which will become homes for city residents when the Games end - have solar arrays installed. There are also solar panels on St Benedict's Primary School in ­Easterhouse and Kings Park Primary School in the south of the city. Watson added: "We aim to become one of the most sustainable and resilient cities in Europe and are exploring the potential of a range of technologies which will help us cut emissions and secure energy supplies."

Glasgow's ambition, as part of its £24 million "Future City" project, is to transform itself into a more sustainable city over the next 20 years. This will include cutting carbon emissions, encouraging renewable energy projects and increasing access to affordable energy.

The Sunday Herald understands preliminary studies have also ­identified more than 27,000 rooftops in Glasgow as being potentially suitable for solar panels, including sites in Yoker, Crookston, Baillieston and Ruchazie.

Professor Joe Clarke, who leads Strathclyde University's input into the solar farm survey, applauded the move. "This is a means to foster a partnership approach to the development of low-carbon energy supply solutions at the community scale," he said.

The city's initiative has been branded exciting by Professor Keith Barnham, a physicist at Imperial College in London and the author of a forthcoming book on solar power.

"I am backing Scotland to beat the Danes and the Germans to a cheaper, all-renewable, electricity supply by 2020 - leaving England well behind. PV on brownfield sites is a great idea, particularly if it benefits the neighbourhood through a local electricity grid."

Barnham's book, The Burning Answer, due to be published in May, points out that Laplanders have managed to reduce their winter heating bills by using stored solar energy. The peak wholesale price of daytime electricity is falling in Germany thanks to the sun, it says.

The book contends that a "solar revolution" would enable society to meet its energy needs without risking the environment.

The Scottish renewables industry pointed out that solar arrays in Scotland could generate at least as much electricity as those in central or northern England. "Scotland may not be famous for its clear skies, but technological advances and the falling price of solar mean we are now able to grasp the opportunities the sector presents," said Stephanie Clark, policy manager for industry association Scottish Renewables. She pointed out that 22% more solar power was installed in Scotland in 2013 than in the previous 12 months.

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London, 16 major solar electricity projects have won planning approval in Scotland since 2011, with a combined capacity of more than five megawatts. City of Edinburgh Council was reported in December to be investigating nine possible sites for solar farms including the former tip at Blinkbonny, Torphin Quarry, Blackford Quarry and the Gilmerton Bing.

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