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.


The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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