Hidden within the recent upheaval in UK government, a policy shift emerged away from ground-mounted solar panels, to allow more land for farming. But only half the story has been told.
The political and media machinery only glosses the surface of such issues, but underneath lies a booming solar industry which will help Britain achieve its net zero targets.
There are three important things to remember:
If every solar farm currently in planning was actually built, this would still amount to less than 0.4% of the UK’s agricultural land;
Agrivoltaic farming means solar panels and agricultural land can co-exist, with the panels raised high enough off the ground for crops underneath to flourish;
Concerns about solar energy being hampered are misguided anyway, as there is enough roof space in the UK to easily meet net zero targets. In fact, warehouses alone could deliver net zero in the UK by 2030, if they were covered with solar panels.
Why is government policy changing?
It remains to be seen, as the new government finds its feet, exactly what is on the table when it comes to solar energy provision and land use. However, in the first round of leadership elections, new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed distaste for solar panels on farmland. His short-lived predecessor Liz Truss and her environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, called for a ban on solar farms from 41% of the land area of England – that’s 58% of agricultural land, as revealed in The Guardian. This led to a statement being released by the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA). Mark Sommerfeld, head of power and flexibility at REA, said: “The solar industry aims to work in conjunction with, not against, agricultural use of land, commonly by either building on marginal land or ensuring multi-land use applications. “In doing so, it provides additional revenue to farmers – supplementing, not stopping, more traditional livestock and arable farming activities.”
As mentioned, agrivoltaic farming is also a near-ground solution, as it integrates solar photovoltaic (PV) projects within agriculture. Agrivoltaic solar parks see PV panels spaced apart to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. They are also raised higher in the air so that crops can grow underneath. But there is another solution, one which SNRG favours in its own application and evolution of smartgrids.
Why rooftop solar is the way forward
The UK has vast areas of roof space ready to cradle the renewable revolution we need. In fact, a new report by the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) points out that warehouses alone cover 18,500 acres of land and have the combined roof space to generate 15GW of new solar power.
This would bring multiple benefits:
Allow the UK to hit its 2030 net zero targets
Double the UK’s solar capacity
Reduce carbon emissions by two million tonnes each year
Vastly cut warehousing electricity costs
Provide more security with the power supply
Enable the warehousing sector to be a net producer of green electricity
The benefits of Solar PV have already been proved in providing low cost, secure, green electricity, but so far the warehousing sector has not taken full advantage.
Of course, warehouses are just one area where rooftop solar panels can provide solutions. From residential to retail, from industrial to educational, Britain has acres of roofspace ready to utilise.
By locating solar panels on rooftops, SNRG installs it right next to the demand. This reduces the cost and carbon associated with shipping it around the country. It also reduces the cost of upgrading the grid to enable that shipment. And it means that occupants of the building can benefit directly from solar – especially if the solar energy is combined with a smart microgrid, which can balance load and generation.
Through incorporating solar PV in a SmartGrid, it can act as a communal asset to meet the wider energy demands of multi-tenanted developments, or be stored to displace grid demand in non-daylight hours.
Examples of rooftop solar which have recently hit the headlines in the UK include:
Essex County Council dictated last year that solar panels should be installed on every available roof on domestic, industrial and commercial buildings by 2050. So far, new installs have generated more than one million kilowatt hours of electricity. Schools with solar installs have made savings of more than £60,000.
Solar panel canopies for car parks are being considered by Bath and North East Somerset Council, aiming to generate 12MW of renewable power across the properties they own.
The development of Heckmondwike bus station in Yorkshire includes rooftop solar panels.
The Welsh Rugby Union is looking to install solar panels on the roof of the 74,500-seater Principality Stadium in Cardiff, to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.
Churchill College in Cambridge has completed the second stage of a project to generate 750,000kWh of solar power on site per year by 2026, adding panels to main building roofs and also a number of smaller buildings, such as garages and stores.
The Scottish Government has pledged to consult on relaxing planning permission for larger solar roof installations early next year.
SNRG and the role of rooftop solar in smartgrids
If you follow us on LinkedIn (if not, please do), you may have seen us concur with views spoken at the UK Solar Summit, that it will soon become socially unacceptable for businesses not to have solar panels on their rooftops.
Rooftop solar is the renewable power behind SNRG SmartGrids, which will play a vital role in helping Britain reach its electrification and net zero targets. Technology is advancing all the time. Solar panels can be affixed to racks, as is the traditional method, or built in to the roof itself.
Rooftop solar panels tend to be less costly than ground-mounted ones, they utilise unused roof space and don’t take up room on site that could be used for something else. Planning permission is also far easier to obtain.
Whatever direction politicians take, businesses already have it within their power to use existing and future rooftop space to utilise solar, bring down energy costs and meet net zero goals.