In Ireland, you generally need planning permission to build or to modify a house. You can get planning permission for this kind of work by applying to your local council. But do you need planning permission for solar panels in Ireland?
12 Square Metre Solar Panel Planning Permission Exemption
There’s a planning permission exemption for residential solar panels in Ireland. Both roof-mounted and freestanding systems are included, provided they meet a number of requirements. The most important of these requirements is the 12 square metre panel area limit. Another requirement is to keep the solar panels at least 50 cm away from the edge of your roof. To read the full list of regulations you can follow this link: S.I. No. 83 of 2007.
12 Square Metres was Enough Solar at the Time
12 square metres of solar thermal is more than any family needs, so the restriction doesn’t cause any trouble there. Similarly, the 12 square metre limit was also not a problem for solar PV at the time when it was introduced. This is because, back in 2007, solar PV was way more expensive than it is today, and the average system was much smaller. In fact, more than 12 square metres of solar PV panels on the roof of a house would have been pretty much unheard of at the time.
You’ll Probably Want Bigger Solar Panels in 2022
The cost of solar PV has dropped dramatically. Because of this, it often makes sense to install much more than 12 square metres of solar panels in 2022. In fact, many Irish families are opting for 25 or even 30 square metres. Most people now go for more than 12 square metres, so they’re not covered by the solar panel planning permission exemption. Here are a couple of reasons why most people want larger solar PV systems:
- It’s now cost-effect to store surplus power for later. This means that extra panels can be put to good use
- Large systems are especially good value for money
- You can sell your surplus electricity to the grid from June 2022
- The roll-out of electric cars and heat pumps will mean higher electricity demand
- The bigger your system, the higher your SEAI grant will be
Changes to Solar Panels Planning Permission Rules
Paul Kenny of the Tipperary Energy Agency suggests removing the 12 square metre limit. In his submission to the Oireachtas, he points out that there is no 12 square metre limit in the UK. Likewise, the Green Party have campaigned to get rid of the 12 square metre limit as part of their government formation talks. Indeed, the June 2020 programme for government promises to:
Conclude the review of the current planning exemptions relating to solar panels, to ensure that households, schools, and communities can be strong champions of climate action.
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Peter Burke, gave an update on the situation during a Dáil debate on the 8th December 2020. The need to draw up “aviation safeguarding maps” is holding back progress. These maps are a precaution against “glint and glare” which could, in theory, cause a hazard where solar panels are installed on aircraft flight paths. The review was supposed to be complete in Q3 2021, with legislation in place by Q4 2021.
Another update came on the 15th of June 2022, when the government released draft legislation to remove the 12 square metre limit for solar panels on domestic rooftops. The draft legislation would also remove limits on rooftop solar panel area for most commercial buildings. The exception is that a 60 square metre limit remains for commercial buildings near an airport. Unfortunately though, the legislation also proposes removing the planning exemption for wall-mounted solar panels on houses. A public consultation on the draft regulations runs until the 13th of July 2022.
Beyond 12 Square Metres of Solar
Over the last few years, thousands of Irish people have installed solar PV systems bigger than 12 square metres. The vast majority of these people did so without planning permission. These people were in a tricky legal situation, as the solar panels had neither planning permission nor exemption. Eventually, one of those people ended up in a planning permission dispute that reached an Bord Pleanála. This was a key moment, because the outcome of this case would have implications for everybody else with more than 12 square metres of panels on their roof:
Solar Panels Planning Permission Precedent
Elzbieta Joanna Pasinska’s case was a landmark ruling on solar panel planning permission in Ireland. Ms Pasinska installed solar panels on the roof of her house in Limerick without planning permission. However, her system did not qualify for the solar panel planning exemption. This was because she installed about 34 square metres of panels, far above the 12 square metre exemption threshold. Because of this, Limerick county council ordered Ms Pasinksa to remove the solar panels. However, Ms Pasinska appealed the decision to and Bord Pleanála, and won. The Board’s decision establishes a favourable precedent for solar panels planning permission in Ireland. See below for a PDF of the Board’s decision:
Other Planning Permission Exemptions for Solar Panels in Ireland
In Ireland, many extensions up to 40 square metres are planning exempt. You may be able to use this planning permission exemption for solar panels by installing the panels as part of your extension. Similarly, you don’t generally need planning permission for garages up to 25 square metres in Ireland. Such a garage could potentially accommodate a large solar panel system without planning permission. Finally, there’s an exemption for “works of improvement” that “do not materially affect the external appearance, thus rendering the appearance inconsistent with neighbouring buildings”. This could potentially allow you to install solar panels without planning permission, as long as they’re not visible from outside your property.
Reality on the Ground: Solar Panels Planning Permission Ireland in 2022
There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, with more than 12 square metres of solar panels on their roofs without planning permission in Ireland. Ms Pasinska’s Bord Pleanála case sets a very favourable precedent for these people. Consider that the system in question was very large, covering nearly the entire front roof of the house. This is a favourable sign for those who have exceeded the 12 square meter limit but otherwise been reasonable about the design of their solar panels.
Making a Planning Permission Application for Solar Panels
If you still feel the need to get planning permission for your solar panels, then you can make a planning application. This involves submitting drawings of the solar panel system to your local authority and filling out a form. You will be instructed to put a notice in your local newspaper and outside your house. Then you will have to wait at least five weeks to allow for objections. In total, the planning permission process usually takes upwards of 12 weeks.
Solar Panels Planning Permission for Farms and Businesses
In Ireland, solar panel planning permission exemptions are more generous to farms and businesses. For light industrial/commercial premises, you’re allowed up to 50 square metres of solar panels without planning permission. For industrial buildings, there’s no limit to the area of solar panels you can install without planning permission. Along with the high electricity bills that many Irish farmers and business owners face, these planning exemptions have helped to spark a boom in commercial solar installations in Ireland.
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