Renewable energy is coming fast. Australian planners are struggling to keep up

A wind farm in South Australia. Image: Getty.

Renewable energy is driving profound changes in cities. It’s happening much more quickly than was expected even five years ago. Responding to climate change, networks of decision-makers, such as the C40 collective of major cities, have begun adopting strategies to promote the uptake of renewable energy. Yet land use planning has seemingly begun to lag behind.

As an example, few, if any, planning codes in Australia prevent overshadowing of rooftop solar systems (photovoltaic and hot water). Instead, disputes are being decided in the courts.

Effective guidance on the retrofitting and redesign of built environment energy systems must occur across scales, from rooftops to wider electricity grids. We need reliable institutional and policy guidelines to improve investment certainty and limit negative outcomes.

So what is the role of planning? What challenges and actions must planners consider for the renewable energy transition to be effective?


Renewable are proliferating

Historically, cities have been built on fossil fuels. These power buildings, lighting, transport, air conditioning, water supply systems, sewage treatment and more.

Technological change and concerns about climate change threats, energy security, air pollution reduction and fossil fuel power costs have recently driven huge advancements in renewable energy options for cities. As renewables rapidly gain market traction, the costs are falling dramatically relative to fossil fuel options.

Many different types of renewable energy have the potential to radically transform built environments. These include solar (both photovoltaic and molten salt), wind, tidal, biogas, biofuel, pumped hydro and potentially even nuclear fusion – though the latter may still be some time away.

At present, this technological growth appears to be outpacing land-use planning systems, and many planners seem to be fighting a rear-guard action.

What role can planners play?

Traditionally, planners have assessed the acceptability, or otherwise, of different types of development. Land uses that were deemed incompatible were separated into different zones. Infrastructural and technological provisions associated with developments are usually strategically planned in advance. Site-specific issues are then assessed through development approval processes.

There are, however, still relatively few land use planning policies and guidelines for engaging effectively with renewable energy. This is a global problem, though some jurisdictions are ahead of others.

A front-runner is the UK, where the Department for Communities & Local Government issued planning practice guidance for renewable and low-carbon energy in 2013. This was a welcome early response. And perhaps surprising, given the comparative lack of sunlight in the UK.

Conversely, Ireland still lacks a strategic plan for solar farm development. This seems remiss given Ireland has an almost identical planning system and roughly the same amount of sunlight as the UK.

In sunnier Australia, the signs are that things are beginning to change. For example, the New South Wales government recently issued guidelines on the approval of solar and wind farms. Queensland has a wind farm state code and guidelines. The City of Melbourne now provides planning guidance for solar energy.

California is forging ahead with solar leasing and is experimenting with mandatory solar for new buildings. The state is also making strides in wind energy.

How should planning systems adapt?

We urgently need more renewable-friendly planning systems to capture its potential benefits and avoid overshooting the 2°C target for global warming. This will mean finding ways to “fast-track” energy generation deemed to be low risk with manageable impacts.

As well as developing practical guidance, planners need to ask some key questions. Are these technologies safe? Might they disrupt other land uses? Does large-scale uptake potentially have unintended consequences?

An easy win for planners is to devise codes and planning scheme provisions to protect rooftop solar installations from overshadowing. Rooftop solar is becoming an integral part of the energy mix in many areas, with surplus production often feeding back into the grid.

A failure of planning to manage a simple issue like overshadowing will result in a loss of potential electricity production, with negative implications for householders and grids.

Medium-scale commercial solar PV farms, providing 1-10MW generating capacity, are likely soon to be a common feature of many suburbs and communities. However, these facilities can present challenges when placed in urban areas. Again, clear planning guidance is needed.

The planning implications of these solar PV farms are only beginning to be understood. The issues include, but are not limited to, site selection, (re)zoning, stakeholder engagement, visual impact minimisation and mediating social, economic and/or ecological constraints.

Suburbs could increasingly be home to medium-scale solar farms like this. Image: Grand Canyon NPS/Flickr/creative commons.

Even as planners begin to engage with the issues of current renewable technologies, newer technologies are quickly encroaching. This adds to the urgency of the planning challenges; constant reappraisal is needed.

Where to next?

Soon we will likely have to better consider emerging technologies such as solar windows, integrated solar roofs, backyard biogas generators and even algae biofuel farming.

For example, could using backyard waste-to-biogas systems create issues with hygiene and infectious disease? What about maintenance? Will microgrids, which can help transitions to a grid with significant volumes of renewable energy, be able to handle demand?

The ConversationWe’ll need effective land use planning to answer these questions and many more. In times of intense transformation, planners will have to provide clear guidance. They must not let themselves fall behind the pace of urban energy transitions.

Tony Matthews is a lecturer in urban and environmental planning, and Jason Byrne an associate professor of environmental planning, at Griffith University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.