Adrian Lea, technical director at Wardell Armstrong offers Solar Power Portal some tips on getting large-scale solar through the planning process ahead of his appearance at the Large-Scale Solar UK 2015 conference in Bristol.

What’s the single biggest challenge the UK solar industry is currently facing?

It’s becoming a victim of its own success. The installation rate of solar PV has been phenomenal. I think few people envisaged the rapid uptake and the speed of install. There was less than 11MW of solar PV installed in the SW Region in 2011. This had risen to over 850MW in 2014. That is a truly incredible achievement. The first UK Renewable Energy Roadmap, published in July 2011, makes no reference to the potential role of solar PV in the UK energy mix. The UK Renewable Energy Roadmap Update 2012, published in December 2012, suddenly contains 10 pages on solar PV. Our challenge is to maintain, and ideally increase, this rate of install while also maintaining public and political support and competing with other technologies for government favour.

What single piece of advice would you give to developers in terms of planning?

Plan ahead. Choose your sites very carefully and, where possible, avoid sites where there may be a contentious issue such as archaeology, high grade agricultural land, ecology or landscape and visual impacts. At some point you may be asked to justify your site selection, particularly if the site is within the Green Belt or involves high grade agricultural land. In such circumstances a ‘sequential test’ may be needed to support site selection. The site selection process should be able to robustly defend the identified site while the subsequent site design should reflect any identified constraints and opportunities. Planning ahead for a possible planning appeal really does make life so much easier should you eventually find yourself at the appeal stage.

What new opportunities do you see opening up in the UK solar market? 

I would like to see much wider deployment of large scale solar PV. We should be optimising our use of under-utilised space such as large car parks (park & ride, hospitals, super markets, airports and so on) using these solar canopies to subsidise parking charges and providing electric car charging facilities. Former landfill sites and mining sites should be utilised where appropriate and large roof spaces should be fully explored. Businesses and energy consumers should think very carefully about their future energy costs. We shouldn’t be erecting any large structures unless they are engineered and orientated to accept solar panels during construction or at some point in the future. The electricity generated could subsidise rentals, thereby encouraging occupancy and stimulating the local economy. The opportunities are considerable and as the technology and price evolve solar PV will be increasingly brought into the mainstream. Solar PV should become the norm, not the exception.

How do you see the planning landscape changing in the near future?

The planning landscape will become increasingly challenging for inappropriately located solar farms. A good planning case will be needed in order to progress some sensitive sites, particularly as more sites are developed and cumulative impact becomes more commonplace. I would like to see the wider environmental and social benefits of solar farms, such as wildflower meadows, community ownership and more intensive farming beneath solar panels, become more commonplace. In this way I think that community and stakeholder support for such development will be maintained.

Tweet us your prediction for the UK solar market for 2015/16!

A buoyant market in next 12 months. Some uncertainty around the election but hopeful after political blustering, business will continue.

What are you most looking forward to about Large-Scale Solar UK 2015?

Sometimes the solar sector can seem like a very lonely world. Previous Large-Scale Solar UK events have provided a ‘coming together’ for the industry and provided an opportunity to meet people that I may not ordinarily get the chance to meet. This is important. It’s a time to reflect on what has been achieved, what’s happening in the wider world and where the industry is heading. It’s good to meet friends and colleagues, old and new.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at Large-Scale Solar UK 2015?

Ben Linscott from the Planning Inspectorate. There are so many questions that I’d like to ask the Planning Inspectorate. Of course it’s not the questions that worry me – it’s the possible answers.

What’s your favourite thing about Bristol?

The Zoo!