Blocking new solar farms could cost bill payers around £5bn a year

Putting further restrictions on ground mounted solar farms could cost energy bill payers as much as £5 billion per year.

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By George Smeeton

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Putting further restrictions on ground mounted solar farms could cost energy bill payers as much as £5 billion per year, new analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has found. This is equivalent to up to £180 per UK household per year. [1]

Based on an analysis of the Government’s 70GW solar energy target, between 24GW and 39GW of this is likely to be generated by ground mounted solar panels in England. With amendments [2] for report stage of the Energy Bill proposing further restrictions on solar farm developments, following moves by the Truss government to effectively ban them last year [3], political pressure remains to constrain solar farms.

If amendments were successful, energy costs for bill payers could be between £3 billion and £5 billion higher per year, as the electricity would likely be produced using more expensive gas instead. At the top end, this is equivalent to gas required to heat around 6.5 million homes for a year, or gas contained in around 90 tankers of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). [4]

Compared to gas, solar on farmland could save households between around £100 and £180 per year, amounting to savings of around £2,500 to nearly £4,500 per household between 2024 and 2050, though this is dependent on future power prices.

Tom Lancaster, Land Analyst at ECIU said, “There has never been a cheaper form of energy than solar, and putting even more barriers in place to its roll out will cost the public dear, whilst locking in dependence on imported gas. This makes little sense when new solar farms will only need a tiny fraction of the available farmland, presenting no real risk to food security whilst providing a major boost to Britain’s energy security.

“Solar farms can also lead to real benefits for nature, with wildflowers planted amongst the panels and thick hedges creating new habitats for birds, whilst screening the visual impacts of the development. And food production can also continue in many cases, with sheep and other livestock able to graze underneath and between solar panels, allowing farmers to double up on sources of income.

“With farmers seeking to diversify revenue streams in face of volatile prices and increasingly extreme weather, red tape to halt solar farms would be anti-growth for the rural economy.”

Recent polling found that over two-thirds of the public support the UK’s target of becoming net zero by 2050, with support even stronger amongst Conservative voters. 44% of voters said they would be ‘embarrassed’ to have voted for a political party that banned solar panels in fields, compared to only 13% who would be ‘proud’. [5a]

New polling found that 80% of people have a favourable opinion of solar energy, and the same percentage would support it being built in their area. A similar percentage of MPs (78%) were also favourable, but 30% of MPs thought more of their constituents would oppose solar rather than support it, suggesting that MPs underestimate the level of support for solar in their constituencies [5b]

Previous ECIU analysis found that between 7GW and 22GW could be generated from rooftop solar, leaving between 38GW and 23GW to be generated by ground mounted solar [6]. Together, being ambitious on rooftop solar and permitting solar farms could lead to savings for bill payers of over £9 billion per year compared to the same electricity being generated by gas.

Between just over 40,000ha and 70,000ha of land would be needed for meet the solar target [7], or between around 0.5 and 0.7% of English farmland. By contrast, moves to further restrict solar development on grades 1 to 3a farmland [8] effectively prevent development on nearly 4.75 million hectares of farmland [9]. Including grade 3b land in this, as some have previously suggested [10], would render a further 3.75 million hectares of relatively low grade farmland out of bounds for solar energy generation.

Already significant areas of farmland are used for bioenergy generation, with over 120,000ha of land used to grow energy crops without restriction [11]. This is already twice the area of farmland that would be required to meet the solar target by 2035, and fifteen times the area currently used for ground mounted solar in the UK. Solar is a much more efficient means of producing electricity, with a hectare of solar farm delivering 48-112x more driving distance, via an elective vehicle, than using the same land for biofuel [12].


Notes for editors

[1] The analysis, assuming there are 28 million households in the UK, is available on request.

[2] New Clause 48 tabled to the Energy Bill would “…end the development of large-scale solar plants on BMV land and require the Secretary of State to publish plans to incentivise the building of solar on rooftops and brownfield sites.”


[4] Assumes that solar PV costs (£/MWh) fall from that secured under Contracts for Difference Auction Round 4 last year, corrected according to current inflation rates, in line with the Government‘s Electricity Generation Cost predictions out to 2050. Assumes that wholesale power prices fall from today’s levels of £100/MWh to £70/MWh, in line with industry projections out to 2030 and ECIU assumptions after that. Load factors used for solar PV and gas power stations are 11.4% and 50% respectively, as per Government and industry norms.


[5b] General public polling conducted by YouGov of 2006 UK adults between 6th – 11th April 2023. MP polling conducted by YouGov of 103 Members of Parliament between 9th March – 7th April 2023.

[6] Link to rooftop solar analysis ECIU assumed that England’s share of the 70GW solar target for the UK was 58GW, and that 13GW of the currently installed solar was in England. Government statistics suggest that 52% or around 6.5GW of this is ground mounted. To calculate the remainder of the target that may need to be ground mounted, it was estimated that between 7GW and 22GW could be generated from roof mounted solar on domestic and commercial properties, leaving 38GW and 23GW needing to be generated by ground mounted solar.

[7] Based on industry estimates that 1.8ha of land is needed per MW of solar capacity

[8] Agricultural land is split into five grades, with grades 1-3a classed as ‘best and most versatile’ (BMV) land

[9] Agricultural land is categorised into five grades, with 1 being the best, and 5 being the least productive. Grades 1-3a are classed as ‘best and most versatile (BMV) agricultural land, with 3b-5 regarded as less important for food production.




For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: 07894 571 153, email: