Blog

A brighter future with solar energy

Climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity. With a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that the climate crisis is “widespread, rapid and intensifying”, no region on Earth will escape the changes that are taking place across whole climate systems.

However, scientists believe that humanity still has the power to make significant changes, which will help reduce the impact of climate change and safeguard our planet for future generations.

Switching to renewable energy

The burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, is the main contributor to climate change. When burnt, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the air, causing the planet to heat up.

The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to slow the effects of climate change, we need to adopt greener ways of fuelling our lives.

Renewable energy provides the opportunity for fuel diversification, which can help conserve the nation’s natural resources. Renewable resources from the sun and wind, for example, are abundantly available, cause little, if any, damage to the environment, and do not deplete the Earth’s resources.

Focus on solar

Solar energy, in the form of light produced by the Sun, can power both electricity and heat and is a clean source of energy, meaning it does not damage our environment. It is produced through the use of solar panels, which can either be mounted on roofs or installed on the ground in solar farms.

Solar farms are big areas of agricultural and rural land containing interconnected solar panels that harvest solar energy. They are designed for large-scale energy generation, which feeds directly into the National Grid.

Most solar farms feature ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert light directly into electricity.

Over the past five years, the solar capacity in the UK has increased by 141 per cent, from 5,488.6 MW to 13,258 MW. The UK pipeline for new ground-mounted solar farm sites is also strong, with 58 sites under review for 2021 construction.

Pre-planning considerations

Although the benefits of solar farms are abundantly clear, careful consideration needs to be given from the very start of the planning process, before an application is submitted.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the national planning policy context for renewable energy, supporting a transition to a low carbon future. It states that, when determining planning applications for renewable energy developments, all local authorities should approve the application if its impacts are acceptable.

When it comes to large-scale commercial ground-mounted solar PV farms, consultation with the Local Planning Authority and local community is encouraged at an early stage.

As a starting point, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be carried out. Proposals should be assessed against the selection criteria of the EIA Regulations, to ensure that the development doesn’t have a significant impact on the environment.

Solar farms have the potential to impact on ecology, both positively and negatively, so it is vital that this is considered in the pre-planning stage. Solar panels can disturb habitats and species. However, carefully designed and well-managed solar farms can generate a number of benefits for local ecosystems and wildlife.

The National Planning Policy Framework sets out a number of guiding principles when considering the impacts that could take place during the construction, operation and decommissioning of a solar farm development.

Any plans should be informed by an Ecological Assessment, which will consider the surrounding wildlife and habitats. An experienced ecologist will ensure that any adverse impacts are identified and mitigated against.

In addition to identifying any adverse impacts, an ecologist will be able to advise on opportunities to increase the biodiversity value of a site. According to recent studies, many renewable energy sites are often able to provide biodiversity and habitat provision and increased pollination rates. An expert will be able to recommend a suitable management regime that can build upon and extend existing habits or create new ones.

Additional assessments may also be necessary, including:

  • A Landscape/ Visual Assessment if the application site lies within, or would impact upon, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park or World Heritage Site.
  • A Historic Environment Statement if a site will affect heritage assets.
  • An Assessment of the impact on agricultural land, where applicable, to ensure that development is only carried out on specific grades of agricultural land.
  • A Flood Risk Assessment to consider the impact of drainage.

 Expert advice

From protecting the natural habitats of wildlife to the impact on biodiversity, an ecological expert will be able to guide you through the necessary precautions, including feasibility studies and environmental assessments.

They will work closely with you to address key issues around ecology, heritage and landscape, to maximise the positive impacts that the project can achieve.

To discuss how Engain’s environmental consultants can ensure your project adheres to planning rules and is as environmentally sensitive as possible, call 01225 459564 or email enquiries@engain.com

Get in touch

To discuss your project requirements, please contact our experienced team