The majority of the public support the development of solar farms in their local areas, according to a new report from Copper Consultancy and Solar Energy UK.
2022 A Bright Future for Solar: Realising the UK’s Potential, A Study into Public Attitudes to Solar found that 56% of respondents support the development of large-scale solar projects in their local area. Just 25% opposed the development of projects, while 17% neither supported or opposed and 2% didn’t know.
There is some variation in support on the basis of age, region and annual income. For example, 82% of adults aged over 55 supported the development of solar, compared to just 53% of those aged 35-44 years old. Northern Ireland showed the strongest support for the technology at 82%, while 70% were supportive in the South West and 68% in Wales.
“Solar farms are now part of the British landscape, and this ground-breaking survey shows strong public support, from all parts of the country. It is especially good to see that people who live close to them become even more favourable over time,” said Solar Energy UK chief executive, Chris Hewett.
Importantly, support for solar farms grows over time the survey found, with support growing by 17% when a solar farm was developed in their area. Meanwhile 66% were unchanged in their opinion and only 2% were more opposed over time. Again this varied by region, with those in the East of England most likely to be more supportive of a solar development over time, at 26%.
Support could go even further however, as 56% said they were unaware of solar farms’ net gain on natural capital and biodiversity. This is particular challenging, as 32% of respondents listed the impact of solar on local wildlife as the biggest drawback of development.
“We understand that one top public concern is how a solar farm will impact local nature, which is why we are working with ecologists to develop best practice for land management and regular monitoring. Evidence so far shows a solar farm usually increases the biodiversity of wildflowers, pollinators and bird species,” Hewett added.
A report from Solar Energy UK in 2019 detailed how increased biodiversity on solar farm land can help tackle the climate emergency, the UK’s declining wildlife and help change the perception of the public and policymakers that may still be sceptical about the technology. More recently, researchers from Lancaster University found that changes to how solar PV park land in the UK is managed could see sites support four times as many bumble bees.
Despite the high levels of support suggested by the survey, 39% of respondents said public opposition was one of the biggest barriers to the development of solar. This perception is at odds with the wider findings of the survey.
“The findings show that developers and the wider industry can build advocacy even further by raising awareness of the physical and local benefits that solar projects offer, beyond their green credentials,” said Sam Cranston, director of energy infrastructure at Copper Consultancy.
A total of 2,003 people participated in Copper Consultancy and Solar Energy UK’s survey, including a sample of 492 people that live near large-scale ground-mount solar projects.
To find out more about public attitudes to large-scale solar developments, read the full 2022 A Bright Future for Solar: Realising the UK’s Potential, A Study into Public Attitudes to Solar report here.