A motion is to be taken in both the Dáil and Seanad today to remove most planning restrictions for solar panels in homes and businesses.
Currently, panels larger than 12 square metres on homes and 50 square metres on businesses require planning permission. The new rules would lift any requirement for planning permission for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in 98% of the country.
Some restrictions would remain around airports and helipads to prevent any potential glint and glare from the panels interfering with aircraft.
43 solar safeguarding zones have been identified with the Irish Aviation Authority, within which an increased 300 square metre rooftop limit will now apply without planning to all developments other than houses. Planning permission will be required for any larger PV installations in these areas.
Some planning restrictions will also remain for some buildings in areas of architectural conservation.
Minister of State for Planning, Fine Gael TD, Peter Burke, said that if the new regulations are approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas, they will be signed off as soon as possible and will come into force as soon as they are signed.
It is predicted that they may come into force this week.
Dr Paul Deane, senior researcher in clean energy futures with the MaREI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy in University College Cork, said that it may be useful for businesses or larger families or those with electric cars, but would not be a game-changer for most.
He said that most families could produce enough electricity for their own needs from what PVs were already permitted without planning permission in homes. And because prices paid for selling electricity back into the grid are low, it did not make financial sense to produce more than you can use.
“A typical family in Cork would only need seven or eight panels on their roof to generate about one-third of their electricity. If you go above that you’re exporting more electricity to the grid, and with the prices that the suppliers are offering at the moment, you’ll probably lose money.
“So put up the solar panels you need to meet your own electricity needs."
David Ryan, manager with Clean Energy Ireland, a Cork-based company that provides solar photovoltaic (PV) panels which is registered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), said that demand for solar is already high.
Accessing stock, most of which comes from China, is the biggest challenge currently, he said.
“There is so much demand that the companies can’t keep up at the moment,” Mr Ryan said. “Enquiries are up 75% on this time last year.”
The introduction of a feed-in tariff, so that home energy generators can be paid for feeding extra energy produced back into the ESB grid, also helped spark solar PV demand, he said.
Planning has not been a major concern for domestic houses, but lifting planning restrictions could benefit many businesses and farms, he said.