How will permitted development rights impact businesses in Scotland?

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government announced plans to ease permitted development rights (PDRs) for rooftop solar installations. With the new proposals having now come into effect – what does this really mean for the business landscape in Scotland? Graham Provest, Shawton Energy’s sustainable energy solutions expert in Scotland, shares his thoughts on the topic.

Previously in Scotland, any domestic or commercial rooftop solar installation that exceeded 50kW required a full planning application, but the new plans that came into force at the end of May have removed this upper limit.

This will now simplify the application and installation process and, as a result, make decarbonisation far more accessible and financially viable for businesses working in Scotland.

It’s no secret that the planning restrictions have presented a barrier to both business growth and renewable energy adoption – due to the time and cost investment associated with regulatory compliance. This is because, under the previous rules, the application and consultation process took a minimum of three months – and could sometimes be longer if there were any restrictions to be considered.

There were also substantial financial outlays, not only for the application on a cost-per-hectare basis, but also any additional surveys – whether for birds and bats, trees, noise, or Environmental Impact Assessments. While these evaluations are very rarely required for roof-mounted solar PV, they still must be considered under an application.

However, this will now no longer be an issue, as under permitted development, if the requirements for installation are undertaken, this will all have been considered. This is a very welcomed move, as for businesses, the frustration has often been the excessive red tape.

Given rooftop solar PV has a minimal impact on the building and the area aesthetic, it has frequently been queried as to why this was required. It’s important to note, however, that this only impacts roof-mounted solar PV. Ground-mounted solar panels and carports will still require formal planning applications.

A milestone step to fostering a cleaner, greener Scotland

Harnessing the sun’s power will not only help companies to reduce their carbon footprint, but by generating clean, renewable energy on site, it will give them greater energy independence and resilience, too. It will also contribute to Scotland’s wider ambitious environmental goals and likely provide a boost to the renewables sector.

Forming part of its green heat targets, the country aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, as well as by 2030, having 50% of Scotland’s total energy demand – electricity, heat and transport – being supplied by renewable sources.

The newly imposed planning changes are, undoubtedly, a vital piece of this puzzle.

Ultimately, the more renewables projects that can get through the planning restrictions process with minimum delays and expenditure, the more benefits for businesses, households, and the rooftop renewables sector as a whole. In fact, over 360,000 commercial buildings in Scotland will have easier access to solar PV. This, in turn, will not only help businesses save on energy costs but on carbon too – providing a cheaper, cleaner and greener energy source.

I, like many people, have been eagerly anticipating the implementation of the proposed regulations. And as the industry is aiming to deliver 6GW of solar PV in Scotland by 2030, the revised PDRs mean we can get closer to achieving that target. It is pleasing to have this obstacle removed, and I expect it to unlock exciting new potential in the industry.

At Shawton Energy, we’re committed to playing a key part in commercial solar energy adoption in the UK, and through our co-ownership with Lazard Asset Management, we aim to deliver more than £100 million of invested capital in high-quality solar projects over the next three years – with a substantial amount of this being invested in Scotland.

What’s next for Scotland’s renewable future?

While it’s fantastic news that that Scotland’s regulations now broadly match the rest of the UK, there’s no doubting there’s still a way to go. In fact, only recently has Scotland announced that it is abandoning its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030.

So, it now has a job to do in restoring faith and rebuilding trust around delivering its environmental promises. As while the country is certainly catching up on the solar conversation, many hurdles also remain regarding the grid and distribution network operator (DNO) requirements. Scotland’s infrastructure also isn’t quite ready for this huge opportunity in solar PV, so this needs to be addressed.

Now the proposals are approved, Scotland’s commercial sector will be able to reap the economic, environmental, and operational benefits of on-site rooftop solar energy generation, but there are still many challenges and opportunities facing the country. Ultimately, it’s only with a collaborative and forward-looking approach that Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy can, and will, be realised.

Graham Provest