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225,000GWh Of Power Can Be Generated From Wind And Solar On 3% Of UK Land

225,000GWh Of Power Can Be Generated From Wind And Solar On 3% Of UK Land

Wind and solar farm blog article

New analysis from the green charity, Friends of the Earth has revealed that 374,900 hectares, a total of 2.9% of land in England is ‘most suitable’ for new onshore wind and solar farms to generate a combined 225,000GWh.

Researchers at Exeter University’s Environmental Intelligence Centre have assisted Friends of the Earth to identify 219,800 hectares of land considered suitable for new onshore wind developments and 295,000 hectares with potential for new solar sites. 

The new research commissioned by Friends of the Earth shows how lifting barriers to new onshore wind and solar power could see England alone producing 13 times more low-carbon electricity than current levels on under-utilised land. It also further strengthens developers’ complaints about continuing government reluctance to reform planning regulations and approve new wind turbine projects

Despite analysis excluding national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), higher-grade agricultural land, small developments, and heritage sites enough viable land was found to generate 130,421GWh of solar power and 95,542GWh of onshore wind. This far exceeds the current level of England’s present land-based output which is at 17,063 GWh combined from already built PV farms and turbines. 

In all, researchers found potential onshore wind and solar PV farm sites totalling 213GW. Friends of the Earth said that combined with offshore wind and rooftop PV generation, this would be far more than even the estimated upper limit of 170.5GW renewable generation capacity needed by 2030 in a scenario modelled by the National Grid, especially when added to offshore wind and rooftop PV capacity. 


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Friends of the Earth has produced an interactive map that shows what sites are available at local authority level. North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and East Riding of Yorkshire are among the top areas with potential for new renewable energy projects. Some of the sites could combine both wind and solar projects while still conserving biodiversity and important landscapes.

Friends of the Earth has estimated that the UK needs to double the amount of renewable electricity it produces over the next 6 years to help power the green transition and replace energy phased out from fossil fuels. This electricity is needed to meet targets for electric vehicles and the switch to clean heating. The greater capacity of renewable electricity is also important for the UK to meet its vital domestic climate targets and its international commitment to cut carbon emissions by 68% by 2030. The National Grid’s latest Future Energy Scenarios also suggest that doubling the amount of renewable electricity is essential to reach these targets. 

According to Friends of the Earth’s research if all the land that they had identified was developed for onshore solar or wind, 2.5 times more electricity than is currently required to power all households in England could be produced. If you take into account the UK’s huge offshore renewable resources and potential for other clean energy sources such as commercial and domestic rooftop solar, not all the land identified for onshore wind and solar would be required to help increase the country’s renewable energy output and meet decarbonisation targets.

Tony Bosworth, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Unleashing the UK’s immense potential to generate cheap, clean homegrown renewables is essential to bring down our energy bills for good and meeting the UK’s vital international target to reduce carbon emissions by two-thirds by 2030. 
But the current government’s track record on boosting our energy security through renewables is woefully inadequate. It has left the UK lagging far behind in the global race to a zero-carbon economy. Meanwhile, Labour is looking increasingly shaky on climate after rolling back its planned investment in green growth. We urgently need our political leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and produce a strong, ambitious, and fair new climate plan that lifts the barriers to onshore wind and solar power and secures investment in the infrastructure needed to support the switch to renewables.”

Trade association SolarEnergy UK endorsed Friends of the Earth’s research.

Gemma Grimes, SolarEnergy UK’s director of policy and delivery said:

“Friends of the Earth’s welcome report is a good illustration of the wide suitability of land for solar development. If we assume that the same ratio of ground-mounted to roof-mounted developments that we see today continues, roughly 2:1 in terms of capacity, we would need about 35GW of new solar farms to reach the Government’s goal of reaching 70GW by 2035. That would mean that deployment would extend to a fraction of the area marked out in the study, while still offering lower bills, a more secure energy supply, and benefits for wildlife.”

Several other organisations have released reports or surveys that point out the failings of the UK government’s actions regarding its net zero transition. To give an example, the National Audit Office (NAO) released a report on the progress of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) on installing heat pumps to decarbonise home heating. NAO’s report said that DESNZ had become too reliant on ‘optimistic assumptions about customer demand’ to achieve the UK government’s ambition of 600,000 annual installations by 2028.

The Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy published in October 2021 set out this heat pump ambition alongside the goal of ending the installation of new fossil fuel boilers by 2035. 

From an external perspective, the Canadian campaign group Greenpeace analysed the International Energy Agency (IEA) government energy spending tracker for 2020-2023 and discovered that the UK spent less on green enterprises than Germany, Italy, Spain, and France.

The UK currently also spends less per capita on green energy and ranks worse for total spending on low-carbon and efficient transport than any of these countries despite transport being the UK’s largest emitting sector for greenhouse gas emissions. Italy spends over 3.5 times as much as the UK on low-carbon and energy-efficient transport at £37.4 billion compared to the UK’s £10.2 billion and Germany spends almost 3 times as much as the UK at £29.8 billion.

Although France has a similar population size to the UK at 67.75 million compared to 67.33 million in the UK, it spends almost twice as much on green projects as a whole at £746.82 per capita to the UK’s £387.71 per capita. 

However, the UK has the potential to generate more than enough renewable energy to power a fair green transition to a zero-carbon economy. If the UK was to use the combination of viable clean energy sources available, it could end its dependence on dirty and expensive fossil fuels and honour its climate commitments. 

If the UK was to expand its onshore renewables capacity it would not only improve energy independence and bring to an end reliance on volatile gas markets but the surplus power generated would also enable the UK to become a green energy superpower by exporting clean electricity to other countries.


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Janet Richardson

Janet is an accomplished director and writer at The Renewable Energy Hub. Janet has worked at a senior level at a number of publishing companies and is an authority on renewable energy topics. Janet is passionate about sustainable living and renewable energy solutions, dedicated to promoting eco-friendly practices and creating a vibrant community of eco-conscious individuals and businesses seeking sustainable energy solutions.


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