A new report published by the Solar Trade Association (STA) today on 20 April seems to show that local councils are leading the way on solar by building modern solar homes, developing ‘subsidy-free’ solar farms, master planning ‘smart’ neighbourhoods and using solar to save money and provide stable sources of revenue to fund services. Highlights from the collection of 26 pioneering and proven case studies, which detail financing, include:
– A subsidy-free 7.4MW solar farm with 4MW battery storage by West Sussex Country Council – and other councils such as Hounslow are set to follow. Perth & Kinross Council has just opened a business park connected to a solar farm using a private wire.
– Councils all over the UK, from Bristol to Sheffield, delivering onsite solar in new homes and buildings. Plymouth City Council has developed Bickleigh Down Eco Village, a development of net zero emissions homes, while Milton Keynes is looking to encourage battery storage in new developments.
– Zero interest Salix Finance funding a solar school with help from Calderdale Council and payback in eight years. An ambitious programme for 50 solar schools continues in West Sussex.
– Innovative tendering schemes to beat cost pressures on rooftop solar, by Portsmouth City Council which has installed nearly 5MW of solar over 300 buildings.
– The use of solar thermal to help reduce energy bills for people in social housing off the gas grid by Mid-Devon District Council.
– Tax-free investment from local people in a solar farm developed by Public Power Solutions for Swindon Council.
Local authorities are in a unique position to make the economics of solar projects attractive given exceptional terms of borrowing, long project timescales, secure off-takers for the power generated and easy access to council-owned land and roof space.
STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett said;
“Leadership on solar in the UK today comes from local councils, and increasingly from regional Government. Local people want a stake in clean energy, so they understand the tremendous value of solar and energy storage – both hugely accessible technologies. We’ve been impressed by the level of innovation and political leadership being demonstrated today by some councils. Our message to councils is don’t wait on national Government; there is a lot you can do today with solar and the UK solar industry wants to work with you to help meet your climate, air quality and economic goals.”
The report makes ten recommendations to local authorities to make solar work today. These include higher building standards, use of Salix Finance, going for high volume tenders and larger schemes to improve economics, granting solar business rate relief to state schools and community energy groups and including solar and storage alongside EV strategies.
Analysis  by the STA on FOI and BEIS data shows that the top 10 local authorities by investment have collectively invested £80 million in solar. There is striking national variation in the take up of solar power with Peterborough topping the league tables with the highest concentration of solar homes in the UK; 11% of homes in Peterborough have solar, while only 0.1% do in Kensington – a 100-fold difference. STA research suggests proactive local authorities boost solar take-up.
Independent expert modelling commissioned by the STA confirms local authorities can deliver solar schools using zero interest Salix Finance for payback within 8-9 years, without the need for central Government support using a Power Purchase Agreement model & business rate relief. Similarly, the unique advantages of local government means they can develop solar farms in good sites for payback in around 12 years, or less using private wires.
While the most pioneering authorities are investing seriously in solar power and energy storage and masterplanning smart neighbourhood, the report includes several ways to boost solar locally that do not require significant officer time or expenditure. The report concludes with 10 recommendations for local authorities to help boost solar.
Paul Hutchens, Chair of STA’s New Build Working Group said; “There is now a wealth of experience all over the UK showing even very mainstream home builder take better building standards locally in their stride – solar makes it easy. Given the chopping and changing of national policy there has been a lot of confusion about the powers local authorities have to demand higher standards. We hope this report helps to clear that up.”
The STA wants councillors and officers who are interested in boosting solar & storage to get in touch. The STA will be holding regional workshops  to help spread best practice and linking councils up through a new Local Authority Leading Lights Network . The STA can also provide advice on technology costs, how to structure cost-effective schemes, and how to safeguard quality in competitive tender processes.
Report author Leonie Greene said;
“There is frustration out there that national policy has made it harder to do solar. Our research showed that better national policy is needed to support domestic and community solar and the great ambitions of local government to use solar to tackle fuel poverty. Government should also end the unfair business rate treatment of rooftop solar for self-consumption. But our report shows that many projects can be done today, free of central government, which heralds a new era of sustainable clean energy investment. By making use of the unique powers they have on planning, to access Salix Finance, Local Development Orders and on granting relief from rooftop solar business rates, councils can support the clean energy ambitions of the communities they serve.”
 The report Leading Lights is available online at https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/about/leading-lights/, alongside other resources for local government. All case studies and images are available to feature in articles on request.
 Further analysis by the STA on FOI and BEIS data on local authority solar investment and concentrations of solar homes is published alongside.
 The first regional workshop will be held in East Anglia with local leaders.
 Authorities interested in solar and joining the STA’s Leading Lights Network should contact Leonie directly: email@example.com.