Protecting Solar Panels From Overshadowing

Protecting Solar Panels From Overshadowing

Late last year a new planning control was introduced into planning schemes to provide protection for existing residential solar panels. New developments in or abutting residential areas are now required to consider any overshadowing impacts they may have on adjoining solar panels.

Guidelines for Decision on Solar Panel Impacts

To assist with this consideration the State Government have prepared a practice note, which can be found here. The practice note provides further details on what should be considered in assessing the impacts to solar panels, as well as siting advice to home owners considering installing solar panels.

The practice note emphasises that the solar panels must be existing prior to the new proposal. This eliminates ambiguity in a case where solar panels are installed after a planning permit is issued for an adjoining property, but before the new development is built, as the control would not apply in that circumstance.

The practice note guides decision makers to consider existing and proposed shadows over any solar panels and also to consider whether the solar panels have been sited to minimise overshadowing impacts. Anyone looking to install solar panels in the future should have regard to the siting of the panels, as being able to demonstrate that they were placed as far from boundaries and as high up on the roof as practicable will assist them if there is future adjacent development.

Examples of preferred solar panel locations to minimise future overshadowing issues.

Is the Control Mandatory?

The new control does not place any mandatory requirements, just provides a mechanism for decision makers to consider the impacts (if any) on existing solar panels. Even if there will be overshadowing onto solar panels the new control does not mean that a permit would not be issued.

The main factors to be considered as part of considering the impact on solar panels are:

  • The existing location and shadowing of the solar panels
  • The proposals compliance with other requirements such as side and rear setbacks
  • Whether the protection of the solar panels will unreasonably constrain development
  • The type of solar energy facility (as some are better equipped to handle some shading)

The new control is overdue as the consideration of neighbouring solar panels has long been a confusing area. It has been discussed in many VCAT decisions, but there has been no consistent process until now. It has often been a source of frustration as there has been some consideration of it under the banner of protecting the energy efficiency of adjoining dwellings, however there has been little guidance on exactly how and what to consider. The introduction of this control will bring some certainty to Council decisions and the consideration of people developing in the future, as well as to existing solar panel owners. It is good to see that both existing conditions as well as the siting of the solar panels is to be considered and weighed up as part of the decision, making solar panel owners accountable as well.