1 August 2023
Solar farms are popular, and they are a crucial part of the country’s net zero ambitions.
According to research published today by Copper Consultancy, over 42% of people living near an existing, proposed or under-construction solar farm strongly support the sector’s development. 
In contrast, the study found that less than 1% said they were strongly opposed. 94% had either supportive or at least neutral attitudes to the sector. Local solar farms have also become more popular over time, the report says.
The Government have set a target of 70 GW of solar energy by 2035. In order to meet this fivefold increase in solar deployment, the Climate Change Committee states that the Government need to roll out solar at an average rate of 3.4 GW a year.
The UN just declared the first week of July 2023 the world’s hottest ever recorded. The need to accelerate the development of renewable energy is only becoming more imperative.
But despite this urgency there is a knowledge gap among the public and some policymakers about what the main barriers to developing more solar farms are. The survey results provide clear evidence that the impression solar is unpopular is mistaken.
“It is clear that attacking solar farms is far from the vote winner some politicians might think it is, so Rishi Sunak’s administration is wise to be far more positive about them than his predecessor’s,” said Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of the trade association Solar Energy UK. “It is only a tiny, if vocal, minority that has given some politicians the impression that solar farms are unpopular,” he added.
Sam Cranston, Director of Energy Infrastructure at Copper Consultancy who commissioned the research added: “Since our first solar attitudes research in 2022 we have seen a growth in the number of large scale solar schemes entering the planning system. While we can expect to see public attitudes shift, this report finds refreshing continuity in public support for solar, alongside tracking what matters most to people and where knowledge gaps still need to be bridged. Building on our earlier research, we have sought to shine a light on how public attitudes shift throughout the development cycle, showing that support for schemes grows once solar farms are in operation.”
Due to dramatic reductions in cost over recent years, solar farms rival onshore wind turbines for the cheapest source of electricity. This led to the end of government subsidies four years ago, with new installations competing on the same terms as gas or nuclear power.
Britons are also largely unaware of how fields full of solar panels have become havens for rare wildlife, says the study. According to Copper Consultancy’s research, people often wrongly assume that the main drawback of solar farms is their impact on local wildlife: 54% of respondents were unaware that solar farms can deliver a net gain in biodiversity.
Solar UK’s Solar Habitat report found that skylarks live on more than half of the 37 sites surveyed, attracted by the year-round availability of seeds compared to monoculture crops.  The species is on the red list of birds of conservation concern and dubbed “the standard-bearer of farmland bird decline” by the British Trust for Ornithology. Nineteen other similarly threatened birds, such as the spotted flycatcher, cuckoo and yellowhammer, were also recorded.
People also don’t know about how land for solar farms is found and where solar needs to be built. Only 7% of those surveyed correctly identified access to the electricity grid as the major factor. With the system being built for a bygone age, only some locations can accept connections to new renewable energy generation without upgrades and new lines.
The need for accelerated solar development is clear, and this report demonstrates that many misconceptions about solar are unfounded. If the Government are to make good on their commitment to net zero by 2050, increased development of solar must be a top priority.
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Gareth Simkins, Senior Communications Adviser | firstname.lastname@example.org