Solar panels on a roof under a blue sky
UK public buildings are being provided with funding for solar projects. Image: MCS

Many businesses and public buildings in the UK will soon install solar panels, thanks to over half a billion pounds of government funding.

The latest phase of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has funded over 1,000 projects since 2020, will provide £530 million of government investment for energy efficiency upgrades, including heat pumps, solar panels, insulation, and low-energy lighting, in public buildings across the country.

An additional £27.5 million of funding will be provided to industrial operations through the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund to help hard-to-abate industries begin reducing their carbon emissions.

Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance Lord Callanan said: “From school corridors to the businesses that power up our economy, we want to make sure buildings of all shapes and sizes are supported to deliver net zero.

“By allocating over £557 million today, we are standing steadfast behind our public sector and local businesses, providing the help they need to make the switch to cleaner, homegrown energy.

“This will not only help cut bills in the long term, but ensure we keep reducing our emissions – having already led the world by halving them since 1990.”

Substantial solar spending

Solar is a major focus of the funding provision, with 84 projects receiving funding to install solar panels on public buildings. Ten NHS trusts will install solar panels on some or all of their hospital buildings, including South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which will receive over £28 million to decarbonise two of its hospitals with solar panels and air source heat pumps.

This funding opportunity for solar panels has also been popular with schools and academies. NEAT Academy Trust in Newcastle-upon-Tyne was awarded just over £4 million to install solar panels. Leeds City Council, meanwhile, received almost £7 million to decarbonise 11 buildings with solar panels, of which nine are educational institutions.

Several district councils and London boroughs have also committed to decarbonising their service provisions with solar installations, including Derbyshire Dales District Council, Warwick District Council, and the London Boroughs of Islington and Camden. The Greater London Authority also received £300,000 to decarbonise a Grade II listed building in Tottenham which is currently in use as a community enterprise centre.

The retrofit challenge

The UK’s vast quantity of old buildings, while undoubtedly charming, presents a massive challenge to a net zero future. The UK has the oldest building stock in Europe, with 5.9 million buildings over a century old and another 4.3 million built over 80 years ago.

The UK’s strong protections around preserving historic buildings can limit the options available regarding decarbonisation technologies. Regulations stipulating that work carried out on listed buildings must be in keeping with the original look and feel of the building can render the installation of certain technologies either prohibitively expensive or simply impossible.

While the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and Scotland’s Public Sector Heat Decarbonisation Fund do go some way to help public institutions lower their carbon emissions, many argue that the pace of progress isn’t fast enough.

A 2023 report by Neos Networks noted that CO2 emissions from public buildings in the UK need to be reduced five times faster than the current pace to meet the country’s net zero goals, with 91% of public buildings needing upgrades in the next seven years.

Parts of this article were taken from our sister publication Current±. You can find the article here.

Solar Power Portal’s publisher Solar Media will host the UK Solar Summit on 4-5 June 2024 in London. The event will explore the UK’s new landscape for utility and rooftop solar, looking at the opportunities within a GW+ annual market, and much more. For more information, go to the website.