Unleash rooftop solar to tackle energy crisis, CPRE urges Chancellor
In advance of the Autumn Statement, CPRE is urging the Chancellor to turbo charge rooftop solar to help tackle the energy crisis
Opposition to industrial-sized solar farms on agricultural land is growing – it’s a battle the government doesn’t need to fight
Sensible policy changes can comfortably – and quickly – help the UK hit ambitious solar targets, while protecting the countryside for farming and nature
Changes to planning policy could turbocharge the rollout of solar energy and help reduce reliance on gas at little or no cost to the public purse, analysis by CPRE, the countryside charity has shown. Ahead of the Autumn Statement, CPRE is urging the government to target rooftops, car parks and brownfield sites for a rapid expansion of renewables.
While some solar farms on greenfield land will be necessary to hit the government’s ambitious renewable energy targets by its 2030 deadline, new analysis shows the vast majority of panels could be placed unobtrusively, leading to a much greater chance of strong public support.
Opposition to industrial-sized solar farms in the countryside is growing, meaning the crucial goal of decarbonising the UK’s energy system could get bogged down in planning objections and protests. Demands for food security and nature recovery are needlessly clashing with net zero goals.
In contrast to the UK’s approach, France has announced plans to fast track renewable energy by mandating car parks nation-wide be covered by solar panels – a popular policy that could generate up to 11GW of power, equivalent to 10 nuclear reactors. Meanwhile Germany has focussed on rooftops first, with 80% of its solar power coming from panels that generate little public opposition.
CPRE is calling on the government to adopt a renewables strategy that prioritises rooftops, surface car parks and brownfield sites in a concerted effort to attract wide public support. If implemented quickly, the policy could drastically reduce energy bills during the cost-of-living crisis and speed up the transition to net zero, while leaving as much countryside as possible available for farming and nature restoration.
Analysis by CPRE, using highly conservative estimates, shows that if only a quarter of the UK’s total 250,000ha. of south-facing commercial roof space was useable it could generate 25GW electricity annually. With good planning and design, 20,000ha. of car parking space could potentially yield an additional 8GW of solar capacity alongside tens of thousands of new homes. The UK already has 14.5GW of solar capacity operational.
Tom Fyans, interim chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
‘As the Chancellor prepares to fill a black hole in the national budget, caused in part by the astronomical cost of gas, it has never been more important to accelerate the switch to renewables. Simple tweaks to planning policy could have a transformative impact.
‘Commercial roofs and car parks are low hanging fruit ripe for solar installations. There would be little to no objections from the public, meaning no time and money lost to planning delays. It’s a no-brainer to maximise the amount of solar that can be installed out of the line of sight and frankly it’s baffling this hasn’t been done already.
‘Rooftop renewables are the answer. They would be almost universally supported and would help make communities more resilient to both the climate and cost of living crises.’
An increasing number of schemes proposed for otherwise unspoilt countryside, without the backing of local communities, are being refused planning permission. The latest example saw a massive 110-acre solar farm at Sedgeford, in Norfolk, turned down after councillors said it would mean an unacceptable loss of agricultural land and that the panels could go on roofs instead.
It is evident that a combination of rooftops, surface car parks, brownfield sites and small-scale community energy schemes could make a huge contribution to our onshore renewable energy requirements, especially when coupled with better measures to reduce total energy demand that are currently missing from the government’s approach.
Three urgent policy changes are needed to ensure renewables are done well:
A national land use strategy to balance the competing demands for development, energy and infrastructure, food security and nature recovery; and planning policy amended so that it actively promotes solar panels on suitable brownfield land, avoiding best and most versatile agricultural land.
Solar panels should be a standard expectation for all suitably-orientated roofs on new buildings, including homes; and planning permission should not be granted for commercial or public car parking spaces unless they also provide solar energy generation.
The government needs to give more financial support to community energy so that new brownfield solar schemes can be connected to the grid quickly.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The Climate Change Committee calls for 54GW by 2035
The British Energy Strategy has an ambition for up to 70GW by 2030
The Climate Coalition seeks a tripling of existing solar capacity, from 14GW now to 42GW by 2030
Based on our initial analysis of existing installations, 1GW of solar capacity requires about 2,500 hectares (ha.) of solar panels. Therefore, the 28GW to 56GW range of additional solar supply capacity envisaged in the scenarios above, equates to between 70,000 and 140,000ha. of solar panels. The total area of panels is likely to be in, or exceed, the higher level of this range if it is distributed into more northerly, less sunny parts of the UK. The associated land-take would be roughly double that amount because of spacing between panels.
Large-scale solar farms of 50MW or more are considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime. To generate 56GW would require about 1,150 schemes of 50MW. The NSIP portal shows ten solar applications, of which two have been approved after lengthy consideration and strong public opposition – the remainder have yet to be decided.
The former Department for Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) UK Solar PV Strategy 2014 found 250,000ha. of south-facing commercial roofs. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) studied the capacity potential of these roofs, and assumed that 50% of the total roof area could be put to use ie 125,000ha. In principle, this could amount to around 50GW of installed capacity – half of the UK’s total energy demand in 2050 and almost all of even the highest scenario solar targets. At the end of 2021, approximately 14.5 GW of solar capacity had been installed in the UK: the trade body Solar Energy UK estimates that 4GW of this overall capacity is installed on commercial rooftops, with a further 1GW on residential roofs. Thus at least 90% of the rooftop capacity (or around 45GW) identified in 2014 is likely to remain untapped.
While DECC and BRE are credible sources, we recognise that there are technical and policy obstacles to rapid, widespread roof deployment that might take time to resolve and reduce the overall impact. But even halving the contribution of rooftop solar again, to 25GW of installed capacity, south-facing commercial roofs could meet at least 45% and as much as 89% of all solar energy growth, depending on the preferred scenario. Bearing in mind that Germany has 80% of its solar capacity on roofs, this seems a reasonable expectation. That would mean the UK only needing to generate around 3GW from ground-mounted solar in order to triple its current capacity to reach 42GW by 2030 – which it is reasonable to assume could be achieved through energy efficiency measures alone.
CPRE has commissioned further in-depth research into the realistic capacity of rooftop solar in the UK, which we expect to release next year.
For further information or to interview a spokesperson, please contact:
Sam Relph, CPRE Media Relations Lead, at email@example.com or 020 7981 2827 / 07739 332796