An investigation by Carbon Brief has dispelled claims made by Liz Truss and her opponent Rishi Sunak that solar is taking up precious farming land in the UK with it amounting to just 0.1% of UK land.
Amid the Conservative leadership race, Truss and Sunak have continuously argued that land should be used for crops, instead of solar panels.
Truss even went on to state at a recent husting in Darlington that she is “somebody who wants to see farmers producing food, not filling in forms, not doing red tape, not filling fields with paraphernalia like solar farms.”
However, on what basis do these allegations come from and are there any substantial evidence that backs both leadership candidates' claims?
According to Solar Energy UK, for every megawatt of power, six acres of land is necessary for current projects. With this, current ground-mounted solar covers an estimated 230 square kilometres (km2), said Carbon Brief. This takes up just 0.1% of land in the UK.
Government plans to scale up solar in line with its net zero targets are expected to bring this up to just 0.3% of the UK land area. This is the equivalent to around 0.5% of the land currently used for farming – and roughly half of the space taken up by golf courses, said Carbon Brief.
Carbon Brief also said that, in comparison, according to Corine Land Cover data, agricultural land covers 56% of the UK. With Truss deliberately targeting the agricultural industry to raise concerns around solar taking up farming land, these allegations are made on false grounds.
Another key benefit is the use of ground-mounted solar that has a capacity of 9.6GW in the UK. Using ground-mounted solar can be placed on farmlands that currently cannot be used for growing produce or crops mainly due to gradual wear and tear on the landscape.
Implementing ground-mounted solar can provide a means for the ground to increase its fertility yet again whilst generating key energy required for the energy transition. This is becoming increasingly important amid the ongoing energy crisis being affected by high wholesale gas prices worldwide.
As part of plans to dramatically scale the solar industry in the UK, the government has outlined plans to increase capacity up to five times by 2035.
The strategy had been produced in response to increasing uncertainty in the energy sector, on the back of high gas prices throughout 2021 and into the beginning of this year, as well as increased volatility over the past month in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Carbon Brief commented this would involve increasing ground-mounted solar capacity by an additional 38GW. As solar technology becomes more efficient it will require less space meaning that, assuming an average of three acres per 1MW, if the government meets its target of increasing solar capacity fivefold, ground-mounted solar could cover a total of almost 700km2 by 2035. This equates to nearly 0.3% of the UK’s land surface.
This is a small figure given the current land use in the UK and thus debunks claims made by both Sunak and Truss that solar panels will take up vast amounts of agricultural land in the UK.