The Rooftop Revolution Report – CPRE

CPRE has published groundbreaking new research into the true potential for generating the electricity we need from rooftop solar. 

Our report shows the opportunities are huge. Putting solar panels on new buildings and over car parks alone could generate nearly the same amount of clean electricity as 10 new nuclear power stations.

And if we make use of low-cost opportunities for solar panels on the rooftops of large buildings like warehouses, the evidence shows that 60% of the solar panels our country needs can be sited on rooftops. 

But if we don’t make use of our rooftops, solar panels could swallow up 180,000 hectares of our countryside – an area larger than the size of Greater London! 

Executive summary 

The accelerating climate emergency poses the single greatest threat to the countryside. Without urgent action, iconic features of our landscapes, including English oak trees and our rare chalk streams, could be lost from many places, throwing the survival of much of our best loved wildlife into doubt. 

At the same time, the increased risk of severe flooding caused by climate change threatens both rural communities and our food security. Recent research by CPRE, the countryside charity, shows that more than 60% of England’s finest agricultural land is within areas at the highest risk of flooding. For these and many other reasons, it is essential for the countryside that over the coming decade we cut our carbon emissions. Critically, we need to complete the transition from reliance on fossil fuels to a new era of renewable energy. 

Yet, despite the urgent need to exploit the best opportunities to generate the renewable energy our country needs, we have a vast and largely untapped resource: roofs. Along with surface car parks, roofs provide space to generate solar-powered electricity, very close to where it is needed. Making the best possible use of solar on roofs and car parks is a solution that will enjoy almost universal support. 

By contrast, greenfield ground-mounted schemes done poorly can cause harm, provide little benefit to rural communities and become bogged down in contentious planning disputes. This briefing looks both at the potential of rooftop renewables and at the interventions needed to deliver them. 

To better understand the full potential of rooftop solar energy in this country, CPRE commissioned experts at the University College London (UCL) Energy Institute to undertake an independent review of the land use implications of meeting targets, drawn from a series of well-established net zero greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Using this data, UCL has produced assessments of the total energy that could be generated from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on rooftops across England as well as the land area that may be required for wind, ground-mounted solar and biomass in England in net zero scenarios. 

Key findings

• Although ground-mounted solar projects will be needed in the short term to hit national decarbonisation, installing solar panels on new buildings, existing large warehouse rooftops and other land such as car parks, could provide at least 40-50 gigawatts (GW) of low carbon electricity, contributing more than half of the total national target of 70GW of solar energy by 2035.

• Longer term to 2050, and with further investment, there is potential for up to 117GW of low carbon electricity to be generated from roofs and other developed spaces, reducing the need for greenfield ground-mounted solar in the medium to long term. 

• Meeting national solar energy targets through ground-mounted schemes alone could require between 0.9-1.4% of the land in England, covering as much as 1,800 square kilometres/ 180,000 hectares of our countryside – an area larger than the size of Greater London (157,000ha)

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