Since the UK is trying to reach net zero carbon by 2050, we will need plenty more electricity generation from solar panels. Clearly there will not be enough land for large wind farms, as these are not allowed on prime agricultural land, above grade 3b. Although commercial interests will largely decide where these solar panels will be located, it might be sensible to develop a policy in advance – if local people are to have any influence on this.
Currently most houses are permitted to put solar panels on their roofs without requiring planning permission – provided they do not overhang the roof. You can also put them on the ground (eg your lawn) if you wish. However, if you live in a historic listed building, then you have to apply to your local authority and they generally say no. They also say no if you want to put double or triple glazing on your listed home, except those they approve.
The reason for this is that local authorities are advised by a government body called “Historic England” and they do not seem to have caught up with the urgent need for our country to become net zero. There are 28.3 million households in the UK of which 400,000 are listed (but some listed buildings are not “homes”). Since there appears to be a blanket ban on installing solar panels or double glazing on listed homes, it is difficult to see how they can become “energy efficient.”
PVCs that look like tiles
Many of these listed homes are in rural areas where people wouldn’t even see the solar panels or double glazing. Obviously, it is important that these buildings are properly maintained and restored and many owners are sympathetic to this requirement. The current method for local authorities to check for illegal solar panels on listed buildings is by drone photographs – but if humans can’t see them, does it matter? Surely these rules need to be modified – particularly if the solar panels cannot actually be seen by the public.
There are now on the market solar panels that look exactly like tiles or slates. There is even window glass that generates electricity. Even fairly inexpensive black solar panels can barely be seen on most roofs and they are certainly less intrusive than Velux windows – which were at one time forbidden by the planners. Imagine my surprise therefore when someone told me I couldn’t remove a Velux window in order to put solar panels on my roof. Nobody objected when the work had been done.
Sheep may safely graze
It certainly seems that some government departments have not caught up with the need to get to Net Zero. That is obvious from the independent 300-page report entitled “Mission Zero” which catalogues a list of things that the government must do to get anywhere near its own stated requirements. This gives us a chance to say where we think that solar panels actually should go.
Many people do not like the idea of solar panels on green fields. Although studies have shown that the grass still grows under them and the sheep seem to particularly like sheltering under them, our instinct is to feel that it is not right. Many farmers cannot make a decent living these days, so they may be forced into covering their fields with solar panels. Would it not be better to incentivise them to put the panels on the roofs of their ugly barns and farm buildings?
Put a ‘roof’ over the car park
Although many new homes are being built with solar panels and heat pumps, legislation for new homes with these is not yet in place. What is even more obvious is that the vast new warehouses that are being built in England should have them – especially if they are data centres (or perhaps we shouldn’t be building those at all because they use too much power).
Another obvious place to put solar panels is over carparks, as is now required in France. This would have a double benefit since they could protect the cars from getting too hot and also protect people getting in and out of their cars when it is raining. There are acres of carparks in UK which could be generating electricity profitably. UK is going to need plenty more electricity in the future, specifically demand is predicted to double by 2050 according to the Mission Zero report.
Another idea to get to Net Zero is community electricity generation hubs. It is easier to balance electricity supply and demand in a local area and the electricity doesn’t have to travel so far (with consequent losses en route). The Mission Zero review states that “Local authorities are a key partner in delivering net zero, but the funding landscape is disjointed, unfair and expensive for local authorities (and stakeholders) to navigate.” Although action on Net Zero may involve the decisions of individuals and families, now is the time for the government to talk to the public about what needs to be done and to give us the right incentives.