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Answers to questions about solar panels

All planning applications submitted to the council will be considered on a case-by-case basis against national and local polices and guidance. The information on this page is not specific to any proposal.

There are two main types of solar panels:

  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels which directly convert sunlight into electricity.
  • Solar thermal panels which absorb energy from the sun and use it to heat water in a water cylinder.

The information on this page relates to Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Do solar panels only work when the sun is shining?

Solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to work, although they will produce the most electricity when the sun is shining.

On a cloudy day, solar panel generation can fall to around 10 to 25% of the output they would when receiving direct sunlight. Sourced from Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days? | Solar Guide

A completely overcast day can reduce solar PV’s efficiency, a partially cloudy day could actually see solar PV systems getting a little boost due to the ‘edge of cloud’ effect. This effect refers to sunlight emerging from behind a cloud leading to a combination of direct sunlight and reflective sunlight which can see the system temporarily generate more energy.

What happens when the sun isn’t shining?

Solar panels do need light so do not generate electricity when it’s dark. There are options to store energy, with batteries the most obvious option for electricity however the technology to achieve this is expensive. Offsetting this expense is the fact that most energy consumption occurs when the sun is at its brightest around midday. However, as technology improves, prices are expected to drop, as seen with the rapid decline in the price of solar panels.

Properties with solar panels would still expect to use electricity from the grid.

Will solar panels provide all the energy I need?

It is unlikely that solar panels will meet all a household’s needs.

A 4kw solar panel system (between 10 to 20 panels) on average will generate 3,400kWh of electricity a year. Ofgem estimates an average household in the UK uses 2,900kWh of electricity a year. The amount of energy generated however doesn’t always correlate with the demand for energy and depends on when the household uses their energy and if they have a battery storage system installed with their solar panels. As an example electricity is not generated at night so a household would not be able to use electricity from their solar system at night unless a battery storage system was set up.

Different factors also can affect amount of electricity generated, such as the size of the system the angle of solar panels, and the energy usage of the property.

Homes with solar panels are still connected to the grid and so will not find themselves without power.

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How ‘green and clean’ are solar panels?

Following installation, solar panels release no harmful atmospheric emissions and they do not pollute water or land. No such widespread damage has been linked to solar PV panels.

Unlike geological resources they have a continuous source of power, the sun.

What about the emissions in the manufacture of solar panels?

There are carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing of solar panels. The two main solar PV panels on the market are silicon-based and thin-film. Both require components that are manufactured, some of which contain rare materials. The sourcing of materials and manufacturing of the solar panels make up a large proportion of the embodied carbon from solar panels. Efficiencies in manufacturing and design have been implemented to further reduce the climate impacts of solar panels.

Research has shown that when comparing the life-cycle emissions of measures that generate renewable energy, such as solar, to energy from burning fossil fuels, carbon emissions from fossil fuels such as coal are significantly higher. The average carbon payback period for manufacturing solar panels is between 1 to 4 years.

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Do solar panels need lots of maintenance?

Solar photovoltaic panels need little maintenance or upkeep. Other than a semi-annual cleaning, these units can operate for over two decades without a tune up.

A comprehensive guide to solar panels - Energy Saving Trust

What is a ‘solar farm’?

Solar farms are large scale, ground-mounted solar panel installations.

How do ground-mounted solar panels affect plants and wildlife?

The effects depend on the existing conditions of the ground where the panels are installed as well as how the site is planned, developed and managed in the long term.

Solar Energy UK has produced guidance on how solar farms, could be designed, implemented, and managed to benefit biodiversity. This guidance has been endorsed by the National Farmers’ Union and can be found at Natural Capital Best Practice Guidance.

Examples of how these areas could be managed to benefit biodiversity include:

  • enhancing grassland between rows of solar panels with a species-rich grassland mix and ensuring careful management of the grassland, such as including an annual cut for hay, and seeding of specific species in the first instance
  • grazing the grassland with a low intensity approach, light grazing of the grassland by a native breed, or a regenerative approach, adaptive grazing involving frequent movement of stock mimicking natural grazing. These approaches will benefit the soil, and grassland. Improvement in the soil and habitat from either approach offers significant opportunity for carbon capture, increased soil health and water absorption potential, which in turn reduces flood risk
  • on species-poor grassland, the addition of greater species diversity through seeding carefully selected species into the area could result in increased carbon capture potential and potentially benefit pollinators, such as bees, and other insects

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What’s the impact and affect of solar farms on land use?

According to Solar Energy UK, approximately six acres of land is required for every megawatt (MW) of power that is currently produced by existing solar farms. This means that current ground-mounted solar panels cover an estimated 230 km2 of UK land (just under 0.1% of land in the UK.)

The National Food Strategy states that, as of 2021, agriculture currently takes up 70% of UK landmass. If the UK reaches its solar targets for 2035, with central government aiming to increase the UK’s solar capacity nearly fivefold, solar panels would take up just under 0.4% of the UK’s landmass.

Solar farms can allow for agricultural activity to continue alongside the system as they disturb less than 5% of the ground in a solar farm. For example, solar farms can provide shading for free-ranging poultry, as recognised by the RSPCA Freedom Foods certification scheme. Poultry can keep the grass down and flocks might need to be rotated to allow recovery of vegetation. A 5-megawatt solar farm on 12 hectares could allow ranging for 24,000 birds based on stocking density of up to 2,000 birds per hectare.

The land for solar farms remains classified as agricultural and can revert in the longer term back to agricultural use. Where a solar farm is placed on agricultural land, there is often a condition that it should be reverted to its original land use at the end of the project. Solar farms should be built with a decommissioning strategy in mind, which will ensure the site is fully restored to its former state. Conditions can include the removal of all equipment to a depth of one metre underground and the repair of any land drains impacted by the decommissioning.

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How do you get rid of solar panels? Are we creating lots of waste we can’t deal with?

With the increase of solar panels, there are questions being raised regarding their disposal and the potential of recycling the rare materials in solar photovoltaic panels. Solar panels are generally replaced after approximately 25 years. Solar panels are covered by Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations with their end of life monitored. Producer companies in the UK must join a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) to ensure that solar panels are collected and recycled properly. Technology is also developing, improving the ability to recycle materials from solar panels, with world’s first factory dedicated fully to recycling solar panels opening in France this year aiming to reuse 99% of a solar panel.

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Are solar panels a fire risk?

There have been a number of fires in sites with solar photovoltaic panels. Reports are that these were due to poor installations of DC isolators and DC connectors. Measures can be taken to reduce this risk, such as ensuring the installation is of a high quality and maintenance checks are carried out when required.

Find out more information about UK solar panel fires mainly caused by DC isolators: Report (power-technology.com)

What’s the rooftop solar potential across the borough?

ABSolar was recently commissioned to assess the solar rooftop capacity of properties in the borough. More information about the study can be found on the solar panel study webpage and owners of non-domestic properties over 30m2 can request reports for their building. The analysis suggested that rooftop potential from non-domestic rooftops could generate 9.7% of residential and industrial consumption. These figures are based on assumptions from a desktop study and would require all possible rooftops to be used to achieve the full potential power generation.

Across the UK there is potential for large scale solar installations. A report by Imperial College London for the Committee on Climate Change estimated that there could be potential for up to 37 GW of rooftop solar in the UK and between 616 to 1,102 GW of large-scale solar potential. View the report on Accelerated electrification and the GB electricity system (theccc.org.uk)

A separate study by UCL investigating the potential of solar in urban spaces in the UK, on behalf of CPRE the countryside charity, suggested that 41% of urban solar potential could be generated from PV on dwellings, 33% from non-domestic, and 10% from car parks. The remaining 17% would be on new, additional buildings.

Aren’t solar panels very expensive?

Solar panels have decreased in price over the past decade, but initial costs are not cheap. They are usually less expensive than other renewable technology, such as heat pumps. The average domestic solar photovoltaic panel system is 3.5 kilowatts peak (kWp), the peak power capability of the solar panel, and costs around £7,000 to buy and install. Find out more on the Energy Saving Trust website

How much it might cost to install solar panels will depend on:

  • the size of the system
  • the type of solar panels
  • the type of building on which they’ll be fitted, for example, increased difficulty accessing roof

Although initial costs are high, customers will often make savings over the lifetime of the panels when energy bill savings are accounted for.

There is a growing movement to support and facilitate community energy. This is the development of locally owned measures to generate renewable energy. As well as generating local, clean energy, these projects aim to provide community benefit, such as reduced energy bills on a community asset and financial return for participants, which can then be reinvested.

We are aware of three local community energy companies:

What happens to the energy that’s generated?

The power generated from a solar PV system can be used on site. This reduces the amount of electricity needing to be taken from the grid and offsets on site consumption.

The electricity that is generated by solar panels that is not used immediately is exported to the National Grid. In England, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) pays the owners of solar panels for the electricity they export to the grid.

Are solar panels are allowed on listed buildings?

There is not a ban on solar panels on listed buildings in Basingstoke and Deane. All applications which affect the special interest of a listed building (including the installation of solar photovoltaic panels) are considered on their own merits and determined against national and local polices and guidance. Every building is unique and therefore each application will have individual considerations.

The council has previously approved planning applications for solar photovoltaic panels and other sustainable technologies in the historic environment, including on listed buildings, buildings with the curtilage of listed buildings and in conservation areas.

Further guidance can be found on the Historic England website.

Residents should contact the planning team and can arrange a free duty planning service appointment before submitting a planning application.

What is the national policy on solar panels and solar farms?

Find out more about how the government is aiming to achieve a decarbonised UK power system by 2035 (GOV.UK) This includes increasing the solar potential in the UK fivefold.

New options, technology and innovation

Innovations include increasing the efficiencies of solar panels, resulting in greater electricity generation and embedding solar PV technology.

For example, solar roof tiles are a relatively new technology and are not employed in the UK yet. Solar roof tiles offer an alternative to solar PV panels in a way that can be less aesthetically disruptive in comparison to traditional solar panels, however, currently come at a cost premium. As with solar panels, it is expected that the technology behind these will become cheaper as they rise in popularity.

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