C&I, Rooftop, Solar

UK Cuts Red Tape for Commercial Rooftop Solar

A change in the rules for permitted development rights in the UK has increased the development threshold for rooftop solar panels on commercial property by a factor of 20. Under the new rules, installations up to 1 MW no longer require full planning permission for development.

Previously, this threshold had previously been set a 50 kW and meant that — provided certain requirements are met — there will be no need to apply for planning permission for either solar thermal or solar photovoltaic installations up to this size. The decision to amend the planning rules was announced by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles. It will clear the way from projects at the scale of a large warehouse or distribution centre.

In a related development, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has also now confirmed that from 2019 it will be permissible for building-mounted solar panels to be moved to a different location without losing feed-in tariff (FIT) support. Under the former FIT scheme, an accredited installation would have been required to stay in the same position for 20 years — despite the fact that 65 percent of the UK’s commercial property assets are leasehold and commercial lease lengths are on average less than a decade long.

Responding, the Renewable Energy Association’s Chief Executive, Dr Nina Skorupska, said: “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.

“Increasing 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.”

The UK’s Solar Trade Association also welcomed the move, with STA Business Analyst David Pickup commenting: “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.

“Extending the threshold from 50 kW to 1 MW 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.”

But Pickup also warned: “However, there isn’t enough room for this market to grow before the feed-in tariffs drops to zero, killing the market completely.”

Nonetheless, Giles Hanglin, responsible for the national coordination of solar rooftop delivery for Savills Energy, said: “The government is certainly making the right moves to remove the former barriers in place which have hitherto dissuaded solar PV investment. In easing both the planning and building transference involved in the process, these amendments are set to make a huge difference in driving greater commercial use of this renewable energy.”

Lead image: Red tape. Credit: Shutterstock.