The case for solar energy in London

Solar panels on the roof of the Tate Modern. Image: Getty.

A Labour member of the London Assembly makes the case for going solar.

Like most people, I was disappointed at Ofgem’s recent announcement that energy bills will rise by £120 for millions of households, despite the government’s energy price cap coming into force. The rise will be hugely concerning, at best, for the one in nine households in London that already live in fuel poverty.

Earlier this month was Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, and it’s important to recognise that supporting low income Londoners to heat their homes actually goes hand in hand with decarbonising our energy system and protecting the planet.

The rise, according to Ofgem, was caused by increases in wholesale energy prices. At a time of intense global energy market uncertainty, including over our future trading relationship with the EU, renewables will add capacity and build resilience to the network, helping to control price fluctuations. In particular, in cities like London which would struggle to install large scale windfarms, the flexibility of small-scale low-carbon energy generation helps to improve energy system capacity and meet fluctuations in demand. We can’t underestimate the importance of renewables in ensuring we have a low cost and resilient energy market, let alone their importance in tackling climate change.

This is all without mentioning the fact that Londoners want low-carbon energy. Solar Together London is the mayor’s new group buying solar scheme, and almost 5,000 households have already registered across just 11 boroughs. When low-carbon energy is accessible and affordable, take up increases, and the resulting economies of scale reduces cost even further. A lack of support for small-scale low-carbon energy generation will prevent Londoners from fully benefitting from solar, despite there being a high demand for it.

However, the cost of installing renewables is a barrier for many households, despite the fact they will result in lower long-term energy bills. For example, even though the cost per watt of solar installation has fallen dramatically with technological advances, the upfront capital cost of installing solar PV is still fairly high (around £4,000-£6,000 for a typical family home in the UK). That’s why it’s so important that the mayor has implemented his Solar Action Plan and Fuel Poverty Action Plan, as part of a £34m investment in programmes such as the London Community Energy Fund and Solar Together London that are demonstrating the positive impact on uptake of renewables that subsidies can have.

But Londoners and the low-carbon energy sector are being let down by government. By cutting vital schemes that allowed energy generators to sell their energy back to the grid, government has created a situation where it will be difficult for these projects to survive. Furthermore, fuel poverty is, at heart, an issue of poverty and low pay. The government needs to step up for the low-carbon energy generation sector, to empower them to provide the clean energy we desperately need, and for low income Londoners, so nobody has to suffer another winter in the cold.

Leonie Cooper is a Labour London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth, and the Labour group’s spokesperson on the environment.


Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.