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Why aren't there more solar panels on industrial roofs?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 4 December 2014 at 2:40 pm

We have had a number of questions from readers recently asking why there aren't more solar panels on industrial roofs, and suggesting that they would be more suitable places for solar farms than green fields. It's a good question, especially as I've lost count of how many times I've heard ex-climate change minister Greg Barker saying how keen he is (was) for it to happen.

In its UK Solar Strategy Part 2: Delivering a Brighter Future published in October last year, the Government identified a number of barriers companies (and community groups) face. These include the ability to access capital, the transaction costs (management time), prioritisation of other issues, suitability of the building stock, and split incentives, primarily landlord/tenant issues. 

The UK is lagging behind other European countries in this regard with just 5-20 per cent of solar PV panels on commercial and industrial buildings, compared to more than half in Germany.

There are moves afoot to encourage more solar on commercial roofs. Last month DECC (the Department of Energy and Climate Change) announced a consulation on a policy to allow businesses to take their solar panels with them if they relocate. Up until now, only new solar panels have been eligible for the feed-in tariff and moving them would mean losing remaining years of tariff payments.

There are 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops (that's 350,000 football pitches if you prefer that measurement) according to a DECC estimate. Or in DECC-speak "massive potential in the UK to turn our buildings into power stations, helping to cut energy bills, reduce pressure on the grid and create jobs".

As part of this change, the definition of building-mounted solar under the feed-in tariff will change to require the building to use at least 10 per cent of the electricity generated. In addition, DECC plans to introduce a 12 month grid delay grace period for solar PV when the Renewable Obligation closes to 5MW plus schemes. This is to provide extra time for accreditation in cases where grid delays cause the project to miss the 31 March 2015 closure date.

The consultation is open to all, and closes on the 5 January 2015.

According to the strategy document referred to above, the Goverment plans to lead by example: "The Government aims to install 1GW solar PV generating capacity on the Government estate through a major programme led by DECC and Cabinet Office. As part of this, it will lead an initiative specifically targeted at England and Wales’ 24,000 schools. 

"This year, Government will identify the first 500MW of deployment and seek private finance partners to incentivise installation. As the benefits of solar deployment on public buildings are realised, we would expect deployment across this sector to increase substantially."

DECC has also pledged to work with the Department for Communities and Local Government on extending permitted development rights in England for building-mounted solar PV to rooftop systems up to 1 MW. 

Photo: Walmart

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