The popularity of solar panels is growing in homes across Australia. However, at the same time, population growth means that more developments keep springing up around our cities. This means “solar access” is more important than ever.
Solar panel installations can’t function at peak capacity if sunlight is blocked by surrounding trees or development. In some cases, even if one panel is in the shade, the whole system won’t provide any electricity.
Yet no national laws exist to protect your solar access despite a proliferation of taller houses and apartment blocks around our cities.
Most states and territories in Australia have their own local laws and regulations relating to the right to access sunlight.
Local authorities are trying to protect the growing number of solar installations by introducing a range of development clauses and overshadowing guidelines.
Solar disputes are now landing in court with increasing regularity however. This is because plenty of grey areas remain.
The Christie Walk residential community in the Adelaide CBD is a good example. Surrounded by large developments, the complex has had to negotiate solar rights with each one.
However, there are things homeowners can do to stop multi-storey buildings and overgrown foliage overshadowing their solar panels.
According to Perth’s Kott Gunning Lawyers, individuals can lodge an objection to a proposed development through their local council.
Residential Design Codes apply in most of Western Australia. The planning process therefore considers solar access for surrounding properties.
You can also create an express easement or restrictive covenant by reaching an agreement with your neighbour about your right to unrestricted sunlight. You then lodge the agreement with the statutory land authority, Landgate.
Neither route is foolproof, however. Design codes are open to court challenges and restrictive easements can also be expensive.
All planning decisions must now consider solar access. This means development and foliage can no longer block sunlight from neighbouring solar panels.
The ruling complements Victoria’s $1.3 billion Solar Homes program. This offers 720,000 owner occupiers half-price solar installations or solar hot water systems.
The Andrews Labor Government will also offer half-price solar batteries to 10,000 households if re-elected on 24 November.