Mapping: England could produce 13 times more clean energy

Press release
Researchers identify new onshore wind and solar sites that utilise less than 3% of land
  Published:  09 Apr 2024    |      7 minute read
  • New analysis finds 374,900 hectares – totalling 2.9% of land in England – is ‘most suitable’ for new onshore wind and solar farms
  • North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Riding of Yorkshire are among the top areas with potential for new onshore wind and solar projects
  • An interactive map shows sites at local authority level

Lifting barriers to onshore wind and solar power could produce 13 times more electricity than current levels generated by these sources in England, new research has found.

To demonstrate the country’s vast renewable power potential, researchers at Exeter University’s Environmental Intelligence Centre and Friends of the Earth identified 219,800 hectares of land considered most suitable for new onshore wind developments and 295,000 hectares with potential for new solar sites, some of which can be utilised for both – all while protecting nature and important landscapes. 

Using a conservative approach that, among other factors, excluded national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), higher grade agricultural land, small developments and heritage sites*, the analysis still finds enough viable land to generate 130,421 GWh of solar power and 95,542 GWh of onshore wind. This is far in excess of current levels (17,063 GWh 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. This electricity is needed to meet targets on electric vehicles and the switch to clean heating, as well as to hit the UK’s vital domestic climate targets and international commitment to cut carbon emissions by 68% by 2030.

The research finds 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, not all the land identified would be required to help boost the country’s renewable energy output.

With a combination of viable clean energy sources, this means 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 dirty, expensive and fossil fuels.  

What’s more, expanding onshore renewables would not only boost energy independence and end reliance on volatile global gas markets, the surplus power generated would also enable the UK to become a green energy superpower by exporting clean electricity to other countries [1].

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.

“But the current government’s track record on boosting our energy security through renewables is woefully inadequate and has left the UK lagging far behind in the global race to a zero-carbon economy. Meanwhile, Labour is looking increasingly shaky on climate after rolling back its planned investment in green growth.

“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 calling for:

  • All parties to commit to lifting the restrictions on onshore wind farms in England the run up to the next election.

  • Local authorities to identify ‘suitable areas’ for renewables in their Local Plan and/or Local Area Energy Plan.

  • Investment in an electricity grid that’s fit for the 21st century as a top infrastructure priority.

  • All renewable developments to deliver biodiversity benefits greater that the current statutory 10% minimum.

  • Communities to benefit and be properly engaged in plans for renewable projects in their areas.  

From community-owned and run projects to energy companies ensuring residents benefit from reduced costs – a range of opportunities to involve people in local schemes, particularly the most marginalised, must all be part of the mix.

Emma Perry runs a riding school with her mother, close to the Swinford Wind Farm in Leicestershire. The family-run business has served the area for 50 years. They specialise in riding skills for children and take them out on local routes - some run through the wind farm. She said:

"When the wind farm was first proposed for the area, very close to our property, we had reservations about how it could affect the community and our business, just like anyone would. But throughout the construction phases we were really well consulted by the construction team and the energy company behind the project. When we told them that some of their plans could have an impact on one of our key riding routes, they listened and made adaptations to avoid any disruption to the route.

“Some said that our horses would be scared of the turbines, but they have never batted an eyelid. The sound they produce is low - they rarely compete with the noise of the nearby M1. If anything, the wind farm has benefitted the local area through a dedicated community fund, which sees that people who live in nearby villages gain from the scheme.

“We know that we have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over the coming years. If we're to do so then we have to be realistic about where else we source our energy – clearly onshore renewables should be playing a much bigger role. For our community, time has proven that having a wind farm nearby is really not a big deal. So long as they're planned with local considerations in mind, there's no reason why many other areas can't do the same and benefit from the development."

Ali Abbas is a member of Manchester Friends of the Earth and the co-founder of Greater Manchester Community Renewables, a community energy project that has installed solar panels across nine schools and one community centre since 2015. He said:

“Our rooftop solar panels have generated enough electricity to make over 85 million cups of tea, and prevented around 360 tonnes of carbon pollution entering the atmosphere. What’s more, by offering cheap, clean electricity throughout the energy crisis, we’ve saved the schools and community centres that we work with £160,000 on their bills, while creating a £40,000 community fund from any profits to help schools roll out further green initiatives.

“Just under half of UK electricity comes from renewables right now, but we need to see a huge increase if we’re to transition to a zero carbon economy and keep our planet safe and healthy. There are a few things the government really needs to do to make this happen. Firstly, it must accelerate the roll out of renewable energy at scale by lifting the barriers that are preventing us from realising our full clean power potential. But it also needs to support communities across the country to roll out smaller, community-run projects like ours. Not only will this help to involve local people and give them a proper say over their energy system, it will also ensure any profits are invested back into the local community.”



A policy briefing, including full details of the analysis and methodology by Exeter University’s Environmental Intelligence Centre, on behalf of Friends of the Earth, is available here.

An interactive map identifies potential sites at local authority level.

Data tables outlining the areas with the most suitable land available, broken down by region, local authority and county, can be downloaded here.

*Researchers reached a conservative analysis of England’s potential for new onshore renewables sites by excluding, among other factors**:

  • Higher grade agriculture land for solar farms – in practice some land that is designated as ‘excellent; or ‘very good’ (grades 1 or 2) is in fact degraded through years of maltreatment and is suitable for development. In addition, many areas where there is existing grid capacity for new renewables is in areas of higher-grade agricultural land; if we are to build enough renewable energy quickly enough, we are going to have to use some of this land. Friends of the Earth will continue to support solar farms on grades 1 and 2 agricultural land on a case-by-case basis, even though our preference is for these solar developments to predominately be developed on poorer quality agricultural land (i.e., grades 3-5), in addition to exploiting the potential for rooftop solar and solar carparks, etc.

  • Wind and solar in national parks and AONBs – we would support smaller developments in these areas if sensitively located and support Renewable UK and the National Farmers Union’s call for small turbines (i.e. less than 25 meters tall) to be granted planning permissions (so-called ‘permitted development’) in such protected landscapes; subject to prior approval.

  • Wind and solar farms close to sites of heritage – for both wind and solar we have added 1km buffers around all Grade 1 and 2* buildings, 2km around registered parks and gardens, and 500 meters around scheduled monuments. In many cases smaller buffers may be appropriate. 

  • Small developments - we have excluded areas of land smaller than one hectare for solar farm developments and 5 hectares for wind farms. Smaller solar projects and single wind turbines or several small wind turbines may practically use areas smaller than this but will be more expensive.

  • Rooftop solar - This analysis excluded an assessment of rooftop solar and co-location of solar with car parks, etc.  This was for practical reasons. But we recognise that these do have important contributions to make.

**The full list of exclusions is available in the policy briefing.

[1] A National Grid scenario for Great Britain (GB) suggests that we need up to double current levels by 2030. This means more than 10GW of new renewable capacity developed each year and potentially more if the transition to electric heating and electric vehicles is sped-up (the average new capacity over the last ten years is less than 4GW)[i]. A recent report by respected energy consultants has said that the slow build rate for low carbon power over recent years now means an average of 15.5GW is needed each year to 2035.

Even under the highest estimate of the renewable energy needed by 2035, which would total 170.5GW, the new onshore solar and wind sites identified by the researchers totals 213GW, which added to power generated by offshore wind and rooftop solar, would far exceed that estimate.


There are different constraints to solar and onshore wind, so these are looked at separately. To identify constraints we drew on advice provided to Stroud Council by Land Use Consultants (LUC) and the Centre for Sustainable Energy and advice from our in-house planning expert.

After constraints are considered we multiple km2 of potential land for wind by 19.8 MW/KM2 based on a 2021 study and 50MW/KM2 for solar based on current practice, and for both multiplied by capacity factors to arrive at an approximation of potential energy production. As stated earlier, where land has the potential for wind and solar, we have prioritised wind; in practice a choice might be made to use this land for solar instead or indeed to co-locate wind and solar.

[i] Using the National Grid future scenarios identified above, and also the Climate Change Committee figures in the 2023 Progress Report