London has so far lagged behind the rest of the country when it comes to solar PV.
London will need to offer alternative methods of support to the solar industry if the capital is to meet renewable electricity targets in the absence of a feed-in tariff, Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Stephen Knight has said.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has outlined targets to derive a quarter of London’s electricity demand from decentralised sources by 2025, yet uptake of solar in London has continued to lag behind the rest of the country.
Proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff of up to 87%, set to come into force in early January, look certain to impact that further and Knight said more would have to be done to stimulate solar in the future.
“If the FiT is removed then the mayor and local government need to start thinking whether it can provide some kind of incentive to help the uptake of solar in London,” Knight told Solar Power Portal.
Alternative forms of support for solar installations have been discussed over the last few months. A report published by consultancy KPMG and the Renewable Energy Association put forward possible tax breaks for companies installing solar, while a possible repeal of the minimum import price undertaking, which would in turn allow domestic installers access to cheaper panels from overseas, has also been suggested.
Knight said that “some kind of financial support” for solar in the short to medium term was “clearly necessary”. “The question is how do we ensure there’s still an industry left to pick up the pieces when the cost of solar panels makes it such that there’s no need for subsidy,” Knight added.
One possible alternative mentioned is the notion of a ‘London feed-in tariff’, paid for by London’s boroughs to continue to incentivise solar within their borders. Knight said that the idea had been talked about in the past, but faced significant challenges.
“I think the difficulty is where the money’s going to come from for it, and what sources of funding the mayor or the boroughs could call upon to support it,” he added.
Solar has also been notoriously slow to the uptake even with the feed-in tariff as it is. The comparatively high numbers of private tenants and high-rise tower blocks has been blamed for this in the past due to the complicated nature of leases and contracts created by rental agreements.
Knight says this could easily be solved by a simplification of the legal processes, and has also called for boroughs to be handed more planning powers with solar in mind. “I’d like to see a routine that every new property has solar panels on the roof, and any time anybody does anything to their roof, they can put solar panels on. We’re seeing huge numbers of loft extensions put in around London, why not use those opportunities to put solar panels on? The big expense is putting the scaffolding up now,” he said.
The plans would echo legislation passed in France earlier this year mandating that every newly constructed commercial building had to incorporate either a PV installation or green roof to help the country meet its own climate change and renewable energy targets.
Last month the London Assembly outlined the need for stable policy support for solar in its ‘Bring me sunshine!’ report, and the Assembly has continually looked to highlight the slow uptake of solar despite the introduction of programmes such as RE:FIT and RE:NEW.installation for every 200 homes. In Scotland it’s one in every 60 homes; the South West one in 26.
Why do you think some London Boroughs have installed far less solar than others? Does the support differ between authorities?
We have not carried out any extensive research, but where you have Boroughs with proactive programmes, deployment is more likely to happen. For instance Waltham Forest has four times more domestic solar PV than its neighbouring borough Enfield with a similar housing stock.
Do the RE:FIT and RE:NEW programmes need to engage with and support Local Authorities more than they have been in order to stimulate solar deployment?
Absolutely. For instance, when I found out last year that not a single school had gone ahead with solar PV as a result of the RE:FIT programme I knew this was symptomatic of the lack of priority given. I therefore lobbied the Mayor to develop a GLA-based Solar PV Delivery Unit to co-ordinate activity and share best practice to maximise deployment across the GLA estate, social housing, schools and community energy. Solar will be a one of the priorities for the new phase of RE:FIT. So there appears to be significant progress, but I will be very keen to monitor their progress and continue liaising with solar stakeholders.
Is London really any worse than other major cities in the UK and internationally with regards to solar deployment?
We have not carried out any extensive UK city data comparisons in terms of installations and capacity installed. Instead we monitor DECC’s feed in tariff solar PV regional data. It has shown that London as a region consistently lagging behind all others, including Scotland and all other northern regions. However, when we compared some London boroughs with similar housing stocks to boroughs in the north of England, the differences were stark. For instance Wigan had eight times more solar installs than Wandsworth, or Sunderland 20 times more than Southwark.
How important is the London Sustainable Development Commission’s role in triggering solar deployment, and what do you hope to see from them in the coming months?
Very, appointing the former energy and climate change minister Greg Barker was an extremely positive step and I would support and encourage him to go for the boldest city solar programme that reflects the urgency of tackling climate change and the need to decarbonise our energy supplies. This means extensive retrofitting of solar panels on existing buildings and going for maximum capacity on new housing developments. But also driving through the innovation and new design so that no surface of tall buildings is wasted.
What does the next Mayor of London need to do, and how high will renewables and solar be on the agenda?
Tackling climate change should be the new Mayor’s overarching priority across all Mayoral programmes on the scale that is needed to mitigate and to adapt our city to the extreme weather events that are expected to be the norm. As part of this, the Mayor needs to develop a solar strategy/action plan for London with sufficient resources behind it and buy in from a wide range of solar stakeholders, including academic institutions specialising in solar energy. In addition, the new Mayor should be an enthusiastic advocate in promoting and helping London’s residents, businesses, schools, communities to harvest solar electricity from their underused and empty roof tops.
By Liam Stoker | 12 November 2015