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UK government waives planning permission for commercial rooftop solar

Barrier for solar rooftops up to 1MW first raised by the Solar Trade Association over a year ago falls away.

 The UK Government has confirmed it is extending permitted development to all rooftop solar (this includes both solar PV and solar thermal installations) up to 1MW.1 This means that as long as certain requirements are fulfilled, there will be no need to apply for planning permission.

Currently, solar installations up to 50kW benefit from permitted development and don’t need to go through planning permission. With this move, this will now apply to all installations up to 1MW, which is roughly the size of a large warehouse or distribution centre — or roughly a rooftop the size of an average football pitch.
“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,” said David Pickup, business analyst with the Solar Trade Association. “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, Pickup noted. He reckons that many warehouses, factories and offices could save money on their energy bills by having solar PV on their roofs. However, Pickup notes 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,” he explained.
Other industry observers applauded the move. “This is excellent news for businesses and farmers in the south west,” said Gabriel Wondrausch, chief of SunGift Solar, UK Solar Installer of the Year. “Commercial rooftops are by far the best place to put solar panels, as they help businesses to considerably reduce their overheads, lower their carbon emissions, and lessen their reliance on the big energy companies.  In fact, many use 100% of the energy they generate to power their businesses during the day.” 
SunGift Solar has installed a large number of solar systems on businesses’ roofs, 2 and although the company has never had a planning application refused for one, many of those who would have liked bigger systems actually stopped at 50 kW because they felt the bureaucracy was “too much of a hassle,” Wondrausch noted.
Using typical 250 W panels, the change increases the number of panels that a business can have installed without planning permission from 200 to 4,000. “This move will open the doors for more energy to be installed where it is best suited, and for businesses to take control of their own energy needs without the annoyance of the additional red tape,” Wondrausch explained.
Plus, large systems bring with them significant economies of scale, too. “So, thanks to the still generous Feed-in Tariff rates, many businesses will continue generate up to a 20% return on their initial investment in solar,” he added.

  1. The move was announced in a statutory instrument released on 25 March 2014 [1].
  2. SunGift Solar has completed a large number of solar installs on the roofs companies that use 100% of the energy they generate to power their daily activities.  These include a 250 kW array on the Met Office’s Energy Centre, a 200 kW array for Gregory distribution, 170 kW for UK Farm Shop of the Year Darts Farm, and 200 kW on the roof of Numatic (manufacturer of Henry vacuum cleaners).


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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling