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Unleash potential of rooftop solar to tackle energy crisis say CPRE

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Countryside charity CPRE are urging the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to “turbo charge rooftop solar” to help tackle the energy crisis, ahead of the Autumn Statement being released later today.

Analysis by the charity has shown that changes to planning policy, something being called for by many, and a greater focus on rooftops, car parks and brownfield sites, would boost the rollout of solar energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels at “little or no cost to the public purse”. 

There has been renewed debate over the ‘best’ use of land recently, particularly in respect of solar farms on greenfield sites. While these type of projects are certainly required if the UK is to hit its renewable energy targets, opposition to industrial sized solar farms in the countryside has been increasing. A balance must be struck, and innovative approaches implemented, such as agrivoltaic solar farms (the simultaneous use of land for farming and power generation), to ensure that the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system is not directly competing with food security and nature recovery, which would greatly hinder Net Zero goals.

In August the French Parliament approved a law requiring all new buildings in commercial zones to be partially covered in solar panels or plants (see here) in a bid to boost energy security and improve the environment. The popular policy is expected to help generate up to 11GW of power, the equivalent of 10 nuclear reactors. Germany has had a similar focus on rooftops, with 80% of its solar power reportedly coming from these type of projects.

According to their analysis, the CPRE estimate that if 25% of the 250,000 hectares of the south-facing, commercial roof space was fitted with solar panels, it could generate 25GW of electricity each year. Similarly, 20,000 hectares of car parking space could yield an additional 8GW of solar capacity with “good planning and design”, greatly increasing the 14.5GW of current operational capacity.

Tom Fyans, interim chief executive of CPRE, 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.”

The countryside charity has called for 3 specific policy changes to support the continued development of renewables:

  • 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.
  • More financial support to community energy so that new brownfield solar schemes can be connected to the grid quickly.

CPRE have commissioned additional research into the realistic capacity of rooftop solar in the UK, expected to be release next year.

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