Speaking last week (Wednesday 22 March) in a Westminster Hall debate on solar rooftop installations, the Green Party MP laid out the potential solar could offer economically and environmentally if the installation of the technology was further supported by a government mandate.
Lucas applauded the government’s target of 50GW of solar by 2030 and then 70GW by 2035, up from of 15GW today. Of the current capacity, around two thirds is made up of ground-mount installations, with the remainder residential and commercial rooftop installations according to Solar Energy UK.
‘A win-win policy’: Reducing energy bills
Jim Shannon, the MP for Strangford in Northern Ireland, endorsed Lucas’ request, highlighting that solar can both increase the value of a property and help reduce the energy costs of those living in the property.
“This is a win-win policy: it is good for householders and good for the environment, and it is good to get people’s bills down too. I thank him for that intervention, with which I entirely agree,” responded Lucas.
“Some 80% of the buildings that we will have in 2050 have already been built, and we must work hard to retrofit them with renewables, but the remaining 20% have still to be built, and maximising the deployment of on-site solar generation in new-build homes could be a real game changer. If we are serious about continuing and accelerating what has been achieved to date and generating a successful rooftop revolution, we should be mandating that all suitable new homes come with solar panels as standard. The government have an opportunity to do that with the new future homes standard.”
She continued to highlight the popularity of solar, which would support the introduction of mandated installation, point to a recent YouGov poll that found that 80% of people across the UK would support the government bringing in regulations to ensure solar panel are a default on new houses. Meanwhile, just 9% voted against the idea.
John Stevenson, the MP for Carlisle in Scotland, also expressed his support for Lucas’ proposal during yesterday’s session.
“It feels a bit like groundhog day, because in September 2017 I had a Westminster Hall debate on this very subject. Had the government followed her suggestion, we would have 1 million new homes with solar panels today. Does she agree that making this compulsory would not only lead to 150,000-plus houses per year getting solar panels but would, in time, lead to price reduction, making it cheaper, and innovation?” asked Stevenson.
Lucas agreed with him, stating that the current estimates suggest that households can save between £974 and £1,151 a year on average on energy bills.
Additionally, further research from Solar Energy UK found that installing a residential solar system on a new build property is 10% cheaper than retrofitting it on an existing property.
There will be properties where it is not suitable to install, Lucas said in response to a recent petition on the issue that attracted 15,000 signatures, but there is still value in mandating the installation of panels.
‘Many different ways to skin a cat’: does a mandate mean a loss of options?
She moved on to rebuff statements made by the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero during an Environmental Audit Committee hearing last week.
Grant Shapps MP said: “We know that there are many different ways to skin a cat; decarbonisation, heat pumps, whether ground-source or air, could be a solution. If you start to say this is the only technology you can use and the only solution you use, you are in danger of losing out on a potentially better solution in that particular location.”
However, Lucas noted that insisting on solar panels is far from saying that they are the only renewables allowed. She highlighted that actually the combination of solar with heat pumps was often cheaper to run as well as being good for the environment.
Providing predictability to spur growth
One of the key benefits of mandating the installation of rooftop solar on all suitable new build homes, instead of simply presuming that future homes will come with renewables ‘baked in’, is predictability.
“From successive governments since 2010 we have had the zero-carbon homes standard, the code for sustainable homes, feed-in tariffs, smart export tariffs, the energy company obligation and green homes grant. It is no wonder the net zero review found that lack of confidence in “inconsistent” government is a huge barrier to renewables investment. That needs to change. As we know, house builders will build to the regulations,” said Lucas.
Rooftop solar in Britain can already be viewed as a success story, despite the ups and downs of the ‘solarcoaster’ driven by the stop-start policy framework.
Last year there were more than 130,000 rooftop solar arrays installed in the UK, more than double the figure in 2021. Installers up and down the country have been reporting record levels of interest, with many struggling to keep up with demand and working to expand their operations at pace.
But to hit targets, this pace of installation will have to double again, with an average of 4.3GW per year of solar needed, up from 3.2GW installed in 2022.
This is “clearly achievable” though, noted Lucas, and is in fact lower than what was installed in 2011 and 2012 during the height of the feed-in-tariff era.