In 2010, the cost of installing solar panels on your home would have been over £8,000. Today, the average cost is £5,000.
This, combined with the Feed-In Tariff (FiT) – the Government scheme which pays a subsidy to those generating surplus electricity that’s fed into the National Grid – and a rise in electricity bills, has resulted in a rapid increase in popularity for producing domestic solar power across the UK. Which, of course, is all very positive.
However, to sadly rain on this parade, when we compare London with the rest of England, the capital’s performance is by far the worst.
Despite London being the most affluent, populous and one of the sunniest parts of the country, we generate less energy from domestic solar photovoltaic (PV) panels than any other region in England.
“What’s stopping people – both as individuals and through community groups – from going ahead and producing their own electricity from London’s often unused rooftops?”
This was one of the questions the London Assembly Environment Committee asked as part of its investigation into how London’s homes could produce more solar energy. In doing so, we wanted to understand why London performs so badly, and what needs to be done to turn the situation around.
The benefits certainly seem obvious – cheaper bills, lower carbon emissions and the potential to earn money through the FiT. We also found that demand for solar power amongst Londoners was high. The Energy Saving Trust told us that 76 per cent of tenants said they would choose a property with a solar system over one without.
We explored the barriers which have been blamed for London’s poor performance to date, to see if they held any weight: too many tall, thin buildings with little roof space; a large number of renters whose landlords don’t want to fit solar panels when it’s their tenants who will gain and not them; a transient population who move from one property to the next quicker than other parts of the UK; and a higher proportion of flats with only shared roof space available.
All these factors might play a part. But our analysis found that London still performs worst even when we compared only unshared, owner-occupied houses – no rented homes, no house shares, no flats and still London is the worst region in the UK for generating domestic solar energy.
So what now? As a Committee, we recognise that improving London’s solar performance is no easy feat. This task will be even harder if the Government goes ahead with its proposed plans to reduce the subsidies available for new solar PV installations by up to 87 per cent, or scrap the scheme completely, as soon as January 2016.
The impact of these changes was made apparent when the Committee launched its report ‘Bring me sunshine! How London’s homes could generate more solar energy’ last week, at the HQ of Skyline Solar Ltd, a London-based solar installation company which employs more than 70 staff in the capital.
During the launch we heard from senior staff about how business had been booming over the last decade, with order numbers peaking during these final months of 2015.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen come January” Technical Manager, Rob Meehan said. “Our order books are full until then, but after January there’s nothing.”
We suddenly have a very gloomy picture indeed.
Our report makes a number of recommendations to help turn things around.
We urge the current Mayor to lobby against the Government’s proposals, and argue for gradual reductions in subsidies, alongside the restoration of the pre-accreditation mechanism for community energy schemes.
Judging by the Mayor’s response to the FiT consultation it appears that we may be on the same page on this, but less talk and more action is needed.
The incoming Mayor should develop policies for maximising solar deployment in London and for promoting the benefits of domestic solar power to Londoners.
They should provide them with the support and knowledge to utilise solar, through effective communications and showcasing solar PV on the Greater London Authority (GLA) estate.
We believe that the Greater London Authority (GLA) should ensure that major developments which are suitable for solar PV are only allowed to be built if panels are included in design plans.
The GLA should also set out ways to increase domestic solar power for Londoners in its upcoming Energy Plan, paying particular attention to landlords in the private rented sector.
London should also look to New York City’s attitude towards solar power – it aims to increase its domestic solar PV capacity by a factor of eight over the coming decade.
Find out more by reading our report, ‘Bring me sunshine! How London’s homes could generate more solar energy’.
Darren Johnson AM is Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, stay up to date with the Assembly’s work via @londonassembly.