25 September

Exploring the public’s perception of solar energy

Egg timer  min Share icon Share TwitterLinkedInFacebook

A new report published by Solar Energy UK and Copper Consultancy, sets out the challenges and misconceptions surrounding the development of solar energy. The report discusses public responses to a survey on solar development and describes 2023 as a “transformative”… Read more

A new report published by Solar Energy UK and Copper Consultancy, sets out the challenges and misconceptions surrounding the development of solar energy. The report discusses public responses to a survey on solar development and describes 2023 as a “transformative” year; with a greater demand for renewable energy projects going hand in hand with an increase in positive public opinion.

Support for solar grows throughout the project lifecycle and is at its highest when solar farms are operational.” SEUK report

We took a closer look at the report with Andrew Mott, our Head of Planning and Environment, and a member of Solar UK’s Planning and Land Use steering committee, with the following a glimpse of the key highlights:

  • Despite the solar industry experiencing moments of turbulence throughout 2022, there has been significant public support which has remained robust and unwavering. It’s encouraging to see that once operational around 84% of respondents support the development of solar energy in their local areas, signifying a growing endorsement for this renewable energy source.
  • The public perceives providing low-cost, clean energy to their communities as a significant benefit, with 32% of respondents identifying this as a primary advantage. They also anticipate further advantages in the creation of employment opportunities, the acquisition of new skills, and the development of a resilient supply chain.

However, there is still a broad range of public opinion and attitudes toward the benefits and perceived drawbacks of solar energy, largely shaped by a lack of awareness and misunderstandings of the sector.

We spoke with Andrew to demystify some of the public’s lingering concerns, as well as his thoughts on solar energy.

Q: The SEUK report highlights that public perceptions around the benefits of solar energy and its perceived drawbacks remain diverse. Can you shed light on some of the key misconceptions that the public holds regarding solar energy?”

Andrew: One common misconception is that solar farms are in direct competition with agriculture for land use, posing a risk to food security. In reality, solar farms do not result in a permanent loss of agricultural land. When agricultural practices associated with intensive arable cultivation cease, soils recover and improve, storing even more carbon. At the end of a solar farm’s operational period, all infrastructure can be easily removed, and agricultural activities can resume. 

Solar farms currently occupy less than 0.1% of the UK’s land, and even if the ambitious net zero targets are met, the land they would occupy would still be less than that used by golf courses. Moreover, well designed solar farms are informed by ecological and arboricultural survey findings and look to not only retain all high value habitat but enhance it and even add to it. Solar farm landscaping proposals deliver new and improved habitats as well as better green corridors and connectivity and will often be in place beyond the life of the solar farm.

Q: How do we at Exagen plan to raise awareness of the positive impacts of solar energy, and are there any specific projects you’d like to highlight?

Public engagement is key to our approach on all projects. We actively engage with local residents, ward councillors, and local planning authorities early in the process to ensure that our projects are well understood, and their benefits are clearly presented.” Andrew Mott, Head of Planning and Environment

Andrew: Public engagement is key to our approach on all projects. We actively engage with local residents, ward councillors, and local planning authorities early in the process to ensure that our projects are well understood, and their benefits are clearly presented. This approach provides a platform for addressing concerns and questions promptly. We also take community feedback seriously, making adjustments when necessary, such as improving access for the public and enhancing habitats. Recently, our team attended an Agroforestry event, exploring ways to integrate this practice into our work.

Q: The report revealed that solar energy has enjoyed a significant increase in public support, particularly for its role in providing affordable clean energy to local areas. What factors do you believe have contributed to this continued support throughout 2022 and 2023?

Andrew: There’s a growing understanding of the urgency surrounding climate change and the need for immediate action. The visible impacts of erratic weather patterns and their subsequent effects on people’s lives have reinforced the reality of climate change. Additionally, geopolitical instability, exemplified by events in Russia and Ukraine, shows the importance of energy independence and the necessity for a secure domestic energy supply derived from diverse sources, thus reducing carbon emissions and costs for consumers.

Furthermore, the rising demand for electricity, primarily driven by the electrification of various sectors, especially electric cars, underscores the need for a renewable and diversified energy grid. Solar farms make a massive contribution, not only generating low cost, low carbon renewable energy but also delivering substantial ecological and biodiversity improvements, enhancing landscapes, and allowing some degree of ongoing agricultural activities on the land.

Q: Looking ahead, what are your visions for the solar energy industry in the coming years, and what pivotal role does Solar Energy UK play in shaping this future?

Andrew: The solar energy industry holds immense promise with ambitious targets in place for solar deployment to meet net zero goals. Research shows that public support for solar energy projects grows when projects become operational, so the more projects that become operational the greater the support there will be for solar energy, which can only be a good thing.

This growing industry will generate both direct and indirect economic and job opportunities – there’s a significant need for skilled workers in the renewable energy sector. As older solar farms get to the end of their operational life, there will be opportunities for these sites to be re-powered, with the latest technology replacing the original infrastructure, with much higher output panels. This will either result in a greater energy generation from a site, if the grid has capacity, or generation of the same amount of energy from a much reduced footprint which will allow the return of agricultural activities of part of the land.

Significant effort is needed to bring our grid network up to speed to ensure it doesn’t impact the delivery of renewables – To learn more about this, I encourage you to watch our Managing Director Mark Rowcroft‘s recent appearance on Sky TV, linked here.

Watch the overview of the importance of community engagement below. Featuring Mark Rowcroft and Flavia Bernabò.

Play