Solar planning requirements being relaxed for larger systems

UPDATE: The Feed-In Tariff is now closed for new applications. To find out about the new scheme designed to replace it, click here.

Over the last few years we have seen the restrictions on solar PV systems relaxed considerably, and it is now possible to install a solar PV system of up to 50kW on a rooftop without requiring planning permission, so long as it follows all the relevant requirements to make it permitted development. The government has announced this week that this will be extended to anything up to a 1MW system – that’s about 4,000 standard sized panels!

Obviously this is being aimed at larger businesses, but for anyone interested in utilising space on the roof of their warehouse or factory for example, it could be really beneficial. There are thousands of larger commercial buildings across the country that could benefit from a large solar PV system.

And remember, apart from producing free electricity form the solar PV panels, you also benefit from the feed-in tariff, which is a payment for every 1kWh of electricity produced. At current rates for a mid sized commercial system of 40kw, you would see a payment of 11.31p/kWh produced – which actually on that scale is very generous indeed!

Why does it work for commercial buildings?

As you may know, solar power cannot really be stored easily – you have to either use the energy as it is produced, or send it into the grid and take an export tariff. For businesses that operate during the daytime, it is clear that most of their power needs are going to be during daylight hours, so they could really benefit from a solar system, but with a large system, even the feed-in-tariff can make the installation worthwhile over the long term.

From ground to roof

Previously there have been many land owners who have taken advantage of the feed in tariff by installing solar farms in fields. The government is now really keen to move away from this and focus more on rooftop systems. Despite ongoing legal challenges, the government has announced that it will be cutting feed in tariffs for large scale solar farms.

Rooftops are ideal locations because they are completely unused sites that have very few other uses, a precious commodity in the UK, with land now becoming so expensive and housing short. Watch out for legislation that reduces incentives for ground based systems and incentivises rooftop development.

Solar thermal and planning permission

Various industry representatives are pushing hard to make larger solar thermal systems permitted development as well. Generally they are trickier to install and more complicated than PV in the context of a commercial scale system, and this is why there are very few solar thermal systems of large scale in the UK. This could begin to change however, if the government decides to relax its requirements for planning.

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