HAMPSHIRE has been ranked among the best counties when it comes to producing solar energy.

A new renewable-energy league table has revealed the top counties for the amount of solar panels installed across England and Wales, with Hampshire taking eighth place.

When initially grouped with the Isle of Wight, Hampshire came third - but was later moved down the list when the county was scored by itself. Cornwall, Devon and Wiltshire took first, second and third place respectively.

And new homes set for construction in Whitehill and Bordon are already being heralded as a way for the county to move up the ranks.

However, while good at solar energy, Hampshire ranked 45th out of 55 when it comes to onshore wind.

Hampshire County Council caused controversy in 2013 when it announced a ban on large wind turbines on its land. While recognising the benefits, it was felt the adverse impact on the landscape was not worth it.

Local efforts to boost renewable energy have been at the forefront of Whitehill and Bordon’s regeneration - the project initially starting as one of Labour’s eco-towns.

While the title might have faded away over the years, the general ethos remains a resounding target for the project’s directors.

Hampshire’s success in the renewables league table was welcomed by Geoff French, chairman of the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership, who highlighted Bordon’s regeneration as a future source of this technology.

“The use of renewable energy, particularly solar power, is rapidly gaining momentum and we are proud that Hampshire is at the forefront of this movement,” he said. “New homes built as part of the regeneration of Whitehill and Bordon will be constructed to the highest environmental standards, including many with solar panels.

“Clearly there is still plenty of work to do to reach national targets around renewable-energy use but the Enterprise M3 LEP is committed to supporting this work through promoting sustainable technologies and balancing economic growth with a well-protected environment.”

The league table was published shortly after a solar array close to Winchester connected to the grid. It will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 15,000 homes. In one of the sunniest spots in the UK, the Eveley site is also estimated to save around 21,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The Green Alliance, the think tank that created the league table, explained that these technologies are becoming mainstream, generating “a quarter of the UK’s power in 2015”.

And renewable energy is popular with people in the UK, according to Government statistics which show 78 per cent of the public support the use of renewables, with only four per cent against.

The renewables industry is also said to be an important source of jobs, with more than 10,000 in the South East, including more than 3,000 in the solar sector. There are 120,000 people employed in renewables across England and Wales, including 30,700 in solar.

The Green Alliance has just launched an interactive website, the Renewable Energy Locator, allowing people in England and Wales to explore how different types of renewable energy are doing in their local area.

Amy Mount, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance, said: “Solar costs have come down dramatically in recent years and counties are now generating a significant proportion of the energy they use with renewables. Yet in the March Budget, the Government did nothing to clarify whether solar technologies have a future in the UK.

“Renewables’ developers need subsidy-free contracts to ensure the electricity they generate will be bought to give them the confidence to invest.

“But we still don’t know if, or when, these will be available and, in the meantime, families and businesses are paying for more expensive, high-carbon energy.”

Martin Heath, director of Hampshire’s Renewable Energy Co-operative, added: “Hampshire is one of the country’s sunniest areas and it is brilliant to see us third in the league table. But we are also one of the highest-per-capita users of electricity as well, so we need to make the most of the tremendous potential in Hampshire for more renewable energy.

“We have some of Europe’s best tidal resources in the Solent and wonderfully windy areas off our coast. Hampshire is England’s most wooded county so we have lots of biomass as well. In fact, Hampshire is blessed with some of best renewable resources in the UK – we should be aiming to be number one.”