Study finds England could produce 13 times more clean energy

Research from Exeter University’s Environmental Intelligence Centre and Friends of the Earth has found 374,000 hectares of land ‘most suitable’ for new onshore wind and solar farms.


The research team identified 219,800 hectares of land considered most suitable for new onshore wind developments and 295,000 hectares for new solar sites, some of which can be utilised for both. 

North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Riding of Yorkshire were found to be among the top areas with potential for these renewable sites. An interactive map shows these identified sites at local authority level.

With this, the study claims that lifting barriers to onshore wind and solar power could produce 13 times more electricity than current levels generated by these sources in England.  

Although the study excluded national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), higher grade agricultural land, small developments and heritage sites from its mapping, the analysis still found enough viable land to generate 130,421GWh of solar power and 95,542GWh of onshore wind. 

The researchers said that this prediction far exceeds the current level of generation, at 17,063GWh combined. 

Estimates suggest  the UK must double the amount of renewable electricity it produces over the next six years to help power the green transition and replace energy phased out from fossil fuels.  

The researchers said that this electricity is needed to meet targets on electric vehicles and the switch to clean heating, as well as to hit the UK’s domestic climate targets and international commitment to cut carbon emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. 

The research found that if all the land identified were developed for onshore solar or wind, 2.5 times more electricity than currently required to power all households in England could be produced.  

Given the UK also has huge offshore renewable resources and potential for other clean energy sources such as rooftop solar, the researchers said that not all the land identified would be required to help boost the country’s renewable energy output. 

The study suggests that, with a combination of viable clean energy sources, the UK could generate ‘more than enough’ renewable energy to power a fair green transition to a zero-carbon economy and end its reliance on fossil fuels.   

In addition, according to the researchers, expanding onshore renewables would boost energy independence - ending reliance on volatile global gas markets - with surplus power exported to other countries.

In a statement, Tony Bosworth, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Unleashing the UK’s immense potential to generate cheap, clean homegrown renewables is essential to bring down our energy bills for good and meeting the UK’s vital international target to reduce carbon emissions by two thirds by 2030. 

“We urgently need our political leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and produce a strong, ambitious and fair new climate plan that lifts the barriers to onshore wind and solar power and secures investment in the infrastructure needed to support the switch to renewables. These are win-win policies for creating long-term jobs, boosting our ailing economy and protecting our planet for future generations.” 

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for all parties to commit to lifting the restrictions on onshore wind farms in England in the run up to the next election, and for local authorities to identify ‘suitable areas’ for renewables in their Local Plan and/or Local Area Energy Plan. 

Additionally, the campaign calls for investment in an electricity grid that’s fit for the 21st century, that all renewable developments deliver biodiversity benefits greater that the current statutory 10 per cent minimum, and that communities benefit and be properly engaged in plans for renewable projects in their areas.   

The analytics for this study, published by Friends of the Earth, can be found here