Skip to content

Rooftop solar – a win for climate change and the Sussex countryside

28th June 2024

The Rooftop Solar Conference 2024 brought together charity leaders, professionals, and academics committed to exploring how solar energy could enhance protection of the countryside.

The inaugural conference on 14 June, organised by The Centre for the South, explored the vital role rooftop solar energy plays in achieving net zero, tackling the climate crisis and protecting the landscapes and green spaces of Sussex and Hampshire.

Key points:

  • We need a new Government target to focus the majority of solar development onto rooftops and car parks,in order to maximise land resources and protect the countryside;
  • To be successful, all potential opportunities for rooftop solar, including projects of different sizes and the role of community energy initiatives must be considered;
  • A rooftop solar map, created by The University of Southampton Energy & Climate Division could help guide investment and decision-making in Sussex and Hampshire.

Planning policy and solar schemes need to adapt

In his opening address at the Rooftop Solar Conference 2024, Alan Whitehead, former MP for Southampton Test and former Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero), highlighted the importance of adapting planning policies and achieving a solar revolution in an equitable and balanced way.

He emphasised the significance of the upcoming General Election in setting solar energy targets and planning policies, stating that solar energy will play a crucial role in achieving a low-carbon, wholly renewable energy system. Alan emphasised that, on ground-mounted schemes, they need to be fairly distributed, taking account of the cumulative impact in some areas – and the value of siting them on brownfield sites created by the closure of old fossil fuel power stations, with excellent grid connectivity. He also stressed the need for significant re-thinking  to fully realise the potential of rooftop solar energy, with medium-sized solar projects holding immense potential in reaching net zero targets.

Solar targets should be ambitious and draw on good practice

Roger Mortlock, CEO of CPRE, highlighted the challenges of competing land uses for finite green spaces, noting that we are now demanding more from land than ever before. He discussed the current government solar energy target of reaching 70GW by 2035,  noting how, on current trends, the bulk of this would come from ground-mounted solar, with only a limited share from rooftops.

Studies show that 40-50GW of solar energy could be generated through medium-scale urban rooftop solar by 2030 and over 100GW by 2050. The research by the University College London (UCL) Energy Institute, commissioned by CPRE, shows the true potential of rooftop solar in helping to meet net zero targets, protect the countryside and tackle the climate emergency.

Read the CPRE ‘Shout from the rooftops’ report

Roger therefore advocated a rebalancing towards a 60% rooftop and 40% ground-mounted solar energy distribution to better align with government goals, such as restoring 30% of nature by 2030. This approach would prioritise and protect our much-loved countryside spaces by maximising rooftop solar opportunities. He also highlighted successes in other countries, such as financial incentives in Germany, Zero-Yen solar purchasing power in China and mandatory rooftop solar in France. Roger also stressed the importance of getting ground-mounted solar right – in the right locations, considering landscape impact and maximising onsite biodiversity, as part of a ‘multifunctional’ approach to land.

Net Zero: mapping potential in Sussex

Dr Luke Blunden, Research Fellow in the University of Southampton’s Energy Climate Change Division and Ellis Riddett, Senior Research Assistant in energy and sustainability, presented their research on a solar mapping tool. In partnership with CPRE Hampshire & CPRE Sussex, the project aims to:

  • Provide local authorities, community groups, businesses, householders and other stakeholders, with information on the potential for rooftop solar PV installations in the local area;
  • Compare the potential rooftop generating capacity with ground-mounted solar farm capacity (existing and planned) in the local area.

The research could help to bridge the gap between small-scale household solar and large-scale utility solar farms by exploring medium-scale rooftop solar opportunities. Exploiting the opportunities available on industrial parks, car parks and commercial rooftops can help to simultaneously protect our countryside and maximise land available for other uses, such as farming and nature.

By creating a solar mapping tool, researchers hope that members of the public will be able to identify the rooftop capacity of individual buildings as well as being a valuable tool to guide investment and decision-making across Sussex parishes, towns, and districts. See the solar mapping tool created by the University of Southampton Energy and Climate Division.

Communities: combatting climate change together

Ollie Pendered, Chief Executive of Community Energy South and lead on Partnership and capacity building support Community Energy Groups, reflected on the importance of community energy initiatives – projects that are wholly or partly owned by the community.

He emphasised that neighbourhood-scale approaches will be crucial in a solar rooftop revolution, making decarbonisation plans within communities accessible. He then shared insights into what makes a good community solar site including: a large strong roof or flat surface that is southerly facing, substantial year-round energy demand, occupants who own the building or hold a long lease agreement, a willingness to engage with a community partners and good connections to the national grid.

Conference summary

In summing up, CPRE Sussex Director Paul Steedman and Hampshire Operations Manager Alison Talbot saw the conference as a ‘huge step forward’ in addressing the need for a rooftop revolution in both Sussex and Hampshire. They emphasised that while there is still progress to be made, the conference provided a positive platform for people to come together and explore the rooftop solar potential in both counties.

The event show shared passion amongst over 50 delegates to safeguard the countryside and tackle the climate crisis.

Key facts and figures

  • East and West Sussex County Councils declared a climate emergency in 2019
  • The current government solar energy target is to reach 70GW by 2025.
  • Currently 15.9GW of solar power generating capacity is installed across the UK, with only around 2GW of this in installations likely to be at the scale appropriate for commercial solar rooftop installations.
  • 40-50GW of solar energy could be generated by medium-scale urban rooftop solar by 2030 and over 100GW by 2050, research suggests.