Pickles cuts red tape for large solar rooftop schemes

Businesses will be permitted to install rooftop solar arrays of up to 1MW in size without the need for planning permission, under new Government changes expected to be confirmed by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today (25 March).

The revised Permitted Development regulations, published online today, state that the allowed development threshold for rooftop solar panels on commercial property is to be extended from the current limit of 50kW to systems that are up to 20 times larger.

In practice, this means firms will be able to install up to 4,000 rooftop solar panels without having to go through the rigidity of the planning system.

The decision has been welcomed by the Renewable Energy Association’s chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska, who said: “We are delighted with today’s announcement which will make it much easier for factories, farms, hospitals, bus stations and other commercial buildings to generate their own sustainable electricity while also saving themselves money and resources.

“Solar installed on commercial buildings has the potential to generate significant amounts of clean electricity, yet it is a considerably underdeveloped area, and the rigidity of the planning system has long been a major barrier to its progress.

“Doubling the threshold before a full planning application is required for a solar installation is a simple but effective step which will lift the shackles from the sector, and will help developers avoid uncertainty in terms of degression of feed-in tariff rates.”


Details of these proposals were initially included in DECC’s Solar Strategy set out last year and were again put forward in a seperate consultation from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on technical planning issues. 

Industry body the Solar Trade Association (STA) had been calling for the permitted development of larger solar thermal schemes – which take longer to plan and install – having seen investment detered due to planning obstacles.

STA business analyst David Pickup said: Getting planning permission is an extra hoop to jump through, and we are delighted that this is one more barrier to getting solar on roofs that has been removed.

“We told DECC and DCLG that the lack of permitted development was an issue more than a year and half ago and that if they want to see more solar on roofs – which is a central part of the Solar PV Strategy – then this would be an easy fix. It is great to see they have listened and actioned it. It’s also good to see that solar thermal as well as PV is included, as we pushed for in our response.

“Extending the threshold from 50kW to 1MW is a boost for commercial solar. So many warehouses, factories and offices could save money on their energy bills by having solar PV on their roofs. However, there isn’t enough room for this market to grow before the Feed-in Tariffs drops to zero, killing the market completely. Our upcoming Solar Independence Plan will show a way to allow more growth in this crucial sector.”

The business benefits of installing rooftop solar systems are clear: according to a recent study by Kingspan EnergyUK companies could save more than £5bn a year in electricity bills by installing fully-funded rooftop solar PV systems on commercial rooftop spaces.

edie staff

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