Going Solar Chapter 20 : Know your local authority

This article is a general reference only and may or may not reflect the rules and regulations of solar installation in your area. The reference includes some of the considerations that you might need to take account before solar installation, however the list is subjective as it will be differ from place to place. Do contact your solar installer or local council for latest updates and regulations on solar installations to prevent disappointment.

The below article will cover Domestic and residential solar installations. For Non-domestic, bussiness and industry installations and utility scale solar PV power generation will require you to seek advice from your local expert and authority.

Why the concern ?

Every council is different (different in ordinance, laws, regulations) and it is emphasis that it is the homeowner’s responsibility to comply with council regulations. The local council have the rights to take law action when seems fit, which not limited to fines and imprisonment, or force removal of the offending equipment.

The coverage not only limited to solar, but to all other renewable energy as well. It is not uncommon that we hear from the news that someone been punished because fixing a unauthorized wind turbine at their backyard.

A solar PV system is a very expensive investment and usually will last for more than few decades. You will end up having more home renovations than having a solar PV panel changes over your lifetime.

The main purpose of these laws it to ensure safety to your self, your home (Structural, Ventilation, Visual, Fire, Electrical safety.) and also your neighbors. Other than safety, visual impact is also as important, not only to yourself but also to the neighbors and any passer by.

Imagine if your neighbors having a super sized solar array that cause excessive glaring and excess reflected heat to your house everyday, it will end up in lawsuit and force to take down the panels. Newer solar PV panels have better coating that have more efficient light trapping than light reflecting from the glass. On the other hand, having protruding panels over the edge of the roof and walls will risk flying away panels during a heavy storm, risk of causing injury to others nearby.

Special consideration to installation neighboring major roads and highways,  monuments and heritage sites, special facilities (eg airport and military bases). Solar PV panels may cause glaring and unsightly at certain angle. Just imagine you are a tourist to a national monument, but having difficulty to take a proper photo shot because the background is cluttered with rows and rows of solar PV panels. Similar to installation beside highways, you don’t want your panels to cause an road accident just because of the glare from your panels. Moreover, if you have odd placement of solar PV panels, it will be a laugh stock for the internet gags viewer and create unwanted attentions.


The tips is to have your solar installation as neat and cool as possible with minimal harm or distraction to others. You are doing good to the environment by supporting green renewable energy generation.

However, solar installation is rather new in certain parts of the world, and there might be no rules against it in some places. You are in luck if your place don’t have any regulations regarding solar installation, go ahead and have a solar PV array your pocket can support, but still, you need to be updated regarding latest changes in solar regulations over time.

Small solar devices

In the world of solar hype and green energy, more and more small solar powered portable devices are rolling out every day, ranging from solar powered calculator, solar USB charger, solar Battery Banks, Solar hand held fans, Solar torchlight etc.

The regulations for such devices are quite loose in most places, especially when you can find all different imported third party solar devices in the flea market.

These also applies to small off-grid solar devices that you use during outdoor camping or rural areas, as they are deem as portable devices.

Small solar installations like stand alone solar lamps, solar garden pumps, solar water fountains etc usually do not need any consent from the authority. But also look into the local guideline on fix small solar installations guidelines if there is any. Most places are loose on these, unless specified.

There is leniency to most rural areas, especially in areas without reach of the utility grid. Solar installation is instead promoted in rural areas and hard to reach areas as cost to build a dedicated utility grid to such areas are very much higher.


Following the installation instruction is important as certain device are approved for outdoor use while some only for indoor use. Misplacing a indoor unit to outdoor might risk void of warranty, shock or fire risk (similar to all other electronic devices).

Permitted Development Rights

Building owners are allowed to undertake certain types of work on their properties without needing to apply for planning permission: these are called “permitted development rights”. This means that certain types of developments are lawful without the need to apply to the local planning authority for planning permission.

The permitted development right differ from places to places.  For example in Canada, Installation of micro generation (defined as up to 50kW) solar PV is allowed under permitted development rights, while 50kw or greater installations is considered non-microgeneration and may require Prior Approval from the local planning authority. In other places like Australia, it is usually permitted without consent for below 10kW, while 10kW-100KW installations will fall into development permitted with consent.

This will take into consideration the design and appearance of the system and impact on neighbors.

Rooftop or Wall Installations

Planning permission and building consent for Rooftop or Wall installations of solar PV panel generally differ from place to place depends on local legislation.

Generally if the installation is of small scale (permitable size depends on area), you will not need a planning permission. In certain places rooftop installations are part of the “permitted development” and do not need a planning permission except in listed buildings and conservation areas.


Planing Permission may be needed if:

  • installed on any part of the external walls of the building if the building contains a flat
  • Solar PV panels project more than 200mm (in some places 500mm) from the wall surface or pitched roof slope.
  • Solar PV panels extend beyond one meter above the highest part of a flat roof (excluding any chimney).
  • The solar PV equipment mounted on a roof is less than one meter away from the external edge of the roof.
  • no more than 90% of the area of a roof plane may be taken up by solar panels or similar devices (in some places the panels shall not exceed 12 sq m or 50 per cent of the total roof area, whichever is the lesser)
  • Solar PV equipment proposed on a wall will be within 1 meter of a junction of that wall with another wall or with the roof of the building.
  • The solar panels are proposed to be installed on, or anywhere within the curtilage of, a listed building, or a potential listed building or place.
  • Solar PV is proposed on a site designated as a scheduled monument.
  • The total output of the system (including previously installed equipment) exceeds 1 MW.
  • the building is within a conservation area or area of archaeological potential or World Heritage Site and the solar PV or solar thermal equipment is installed on a roof which forms the front of the building and is visible form the main road.

In cases of Building Integrated Solar Panel which the panel is the roof cladding itself might need a building consent before installation.

Structural constrains (ability of the existing roof and roofing materials to carry the load (weight) of the panel) will need to be checked and proven. Some strengthening work may be needed before installations. Other considerations includes structure safety, fire safety and electrical safety. Some building regulations will includes fire proofing and weather proofing. In some places, it requires the installation only by a competent or certified personals.

Installation on conserved area and listed buildings, which not limited to special architectural buildings with historic interest or heritage buildings, will require permission and list building consent before installation. The installation will deem to have structural impact on existing building fabric and visual impact on characteristic appearance of the building. Even if it is approved for installations, it will be installed with minimal affect to the building fabric and easy removal. Special consideration to wiring and cables for safety and reduce visual impact.

Generally the following conditions must be observed:

  • Equipment on a building should be sited, so far as is practicable, to minimize the effect on the external appearance of the building and the amenity of the area.
  • When no longer needed equipment should be removed as soon as reasonably practicable.

When you are staying in estate or town homes within a strata management (guarded community), it is usually required for a permission from the management first. Some prohibit street facing or park/pond facing rooftop solar installations as it may cause visual impact on the pristine community. If you are staying in a multi storey unit block (flats, apartment, condominiums etc), usually it is prohibited to have outdoor installations (not limited to satellite dish and antennas).

If you have a insurance for home, fire and theft for your house, do contact the insurance company regarding the rooftop or wall solar being installed. Some insurer will consider it a material changes to your home and may change the protection premium. Some insurer will not cover damages to the home structure if it is occur during or after the installation.

In short, feel free to ask the local solar installers regarding their certification and other requirements need to be met before a rooftop or wall installations.

Ground Installations

Ground Installations are more lenient than Building installations, but some considerations still apply if you have large Solar PV Array. It is still depends on the rules of the local council on need for planning permission before installation, but Building permissions is not required as the panels is not installed on a existing building. The rules varies with different council.

Generally the following conditions must be observed:

  • Stand-alone solar equipment should be sited, so far as is practicable, to minimise its effect on the amenity of the area.
  • When no longer needed equipment should be removed as soon as reasonably practicable.

Special considerations for planning permissions :

  • Only the first stand alone solar installation will be permitted development. Further installations will require planning permission.
  • No part of the installation should be higher than four meters (some place are stated panels erected on the ground do not exceed 2.5 meters above ground level or 2 meters if they are within 1 meter of a boundary)
  • The total aggregate external area of ground mounted solar panels or similar devices does not exceed 9 square meters.
  • The installation should be at least 5m from the boundary of the property
  • The size of the array should be no more that 9 square meters or 3m wide by 3m deep
  • Panels should not be installed within boundary of a listed building or a scheduled monument.
  • if your property is in a conservation area, or in a World Heritage Site, no part of the solar installation should be nearer to any highway bounding the house than the part of the house that is nearest to that highway.


NEXT CHAPTER >> Consult the experts