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Overcoming obstacles to microgeneration part 3: planning

Posted by on 11 June 2010 at 9:32 am

Planning permission for renewable energy and microgeneration brings up such a wide range of issues that we're worried you might fall asleep at your computer if we covered them all. So, in this blog, we focus on:

  • The process of planning application and approval
  • Planning directives

The process of planning application and approval
In April 2008 Permitted Development Orders (PDO) were introduced to simplify the process for installing solar PV panels, solar thermal panels, ground source heat pumps and biomass heating systems. However these PDOs do not apply to properties in conservation areas or to listed buildings. Also, PDOs have not been introduced for small-scale wind turbines and air source heat pumps.

Broadly, the PDOs are well designed and have simplified the process of installing the widely applicable technologies such as solar, enabling wider uptake. Issues have arisen where planning officers within local authorities have failed to incorporate the PDOs into their processes, or when a PDO does not apply (such as in conservation areas) and officers have failed to use sufficient initiative and collaborate with the homeowner. This has resulted in protracted and intensive projects for homeowners, some of which are never completed despite their being no real reason for their failure.

Homeowners often pinpoint a lack of understanding within the planning department and planning officers as the main problem. Better training and imposing standard procedures that would allow microgeneration projects that sit both in and outside of PDOs to be assessed and approved/declined more quickly and more efficiently would help.

Exactly where this training can come from, and more importantly how it should be funded, is a point for discussion, and we welcome comments on this blog. It could be delivered through the government's Planning Portal website. Resources at this website on PDOs and planning issues for microgeneration could be expanded, forming the basis of more detailed training.

Two other possible sources would be the Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets (CERT) scheme that applies to the larger energy suppliers; and the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, the body responsible for assessing and delivering accreditation to both microgeneration products and installers.

Planning directives
The government has ambitious targets for building new homes and by 2016 all new homes that are built are to be zero carbon. Exactly what “zero carbon” means nobody is quite sure. Oh well, sweep that under the carpet for now! The challenges are significant but they present opportunities for microgeneration. The results of our survey suggest that simple amendments can be made to planning directives to trigger growth in microgeneration.

For example, it should be mandatory that all new homes are built with microgeneration systems integrated. This would build on the Merton Rule, a forward-thinking district that stated that all new development should be sourcing at least 10% of its energy requirement from onsite renewable energy generation.

In addition, all new housing stock should be designed so that the roof pitch and orientation of the roof pitch maximises the potential for harnessing solar energy. This would ensure that any solar microgeneration installed during the build or fitted retrospectively would make the most of the potential solar resource.  

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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