Rule restricting number of solar panels is relaxed

Restrictions on the number of rooftop solar panels on houses and other properties are to be lifted to boost the amount of solar energy generated in communities.

New rules will also allow more schools and community buildings to install solar for their own energy needs.

The main outstanding issue is potential glint or glare from any increase in rooftop panels, and ensuring they do not pose a hazard to aircraft.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said it was working with the Department of Climate Action and the Irish Aviation Authority on guidelines.

“It is intended that work on this outstanding issue will be completed in the coming months,” the department said.

The move was prompted by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), which runs the State’s energy efficiency grant schemes.

“SEAI has found through its interactions with homeowners, businesses and actors in the solar industry that rooftop planning requirements are consistently identified as a barrier to uptake,” briefing notes for Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan said.

Existing rules require planning permission for panels taking up more than 12 square metres, or 50pc of a house roof – whichever is smaller – and 50sqm or 50pc of the roof of a business or light industrial building.

The rules will increase the area that is exempt from planning permission. Despite the current restrictions, interest in installing solar has soared, necessitating a near doubling of the funding for solar panel grants for 2020.

SEAI got 140 applications a month at the start of last year but that rose to more than 300 by November, followed by a surge to 900 in December, when the deadline for the 2019 scheme approached.

Even with the disruption to construction caused by Covid-19 restrictions, there were a further 1,516 applications up to the end of July this year, averaging 216 a month. SEAI said the 2020 allocation of €3.5m had been increased to €6.5m to meet the demand.