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.