Developing solar farms across the UK in line with the government’s renewable ambitions will not have a significant impact on food production, according to research undertaken by Lightsource Renewable Energy.

One of the most common criticisms levelled at the development of solar farms in the UK is that they are often sited on agricultural land, jeopardising the UK’s already limited food production capabilities. However, the study commissioned by the UK’s largest solar developer shows that in order to meet the energy minister Greg Barker’s 22GW by 2020 ambition, 53,977 hectares of land would be required.

The figure represents less than 0.29% of the UK’s 17 million hectares of total agricultural land. Lightsource calculates that if the UK did have 22GW of solar farms it would only reduce UK-grown and consumed food by 0.2% given that Britain’s agricultural land produces 60% of the nation’s food.  

Mark Turner, operations director, Lightsource Renewable Energy commented: “There have been some concerns about the impact of solar farms on food production, but it’s now been confirmed that this impact is incredibly small. Yes, our domestic food production will likely increase over the years, but one of the biggest myths is that solar farms can’t be used to cultivate food. Solar farms are currently being used across the country not only to generate clean power but as grazing land for sheep and other animals.”

The Solar Trade Association (STA) recently outlined 10 Commitments for solar farm developers that it hopes will help steer industry best practice. One of the commitments is a promise to focus on non-agricultural land or sites with lower agricultural value. A recent Westminster debate focused on the siting of solar farms on agricultural land and forced Greg Barker to issue revised planning guidance for solar farms.  

Turner believes that the arguments over solar farms on agricultural land loses sight of the larger picture, he said: “Whilst there are a select few concerned about solar farms damaging the countryside or creating a food problem, the biggest point of all of this is being missed. Climate change is why renewables are here. We all need to do our part to secure our own clean, affordable energy and governments have legal binding targets to be met. Thomas Edison worked this out years ago, and it’s about time we started taking climate change seriously.”