Households with solar panels are “effectively providing a subsidy to the commercial energy market”

Solar panels on a roof in France. Where they have these things. Image: Getty.

A Labour member of the London Assembly calls for reform of renewable energy policy.

I have this week signed an open letter, from the Solar Trade Association, along with over 200 key public figures. This letter calls on the government to make sure that people producing renewable energy through solar panels are paid a fair market rate for the power that they send to the national grid.

The landscape for small scale renewable energy generation is diverse and dynamic. It includes individual households with solar panels on their roof, community energy projects allowing organisations like schools and day centres to generate energy, and a large number of small businesses. These groups, collectively known as ‘prosumers’, as they both consume and produce energy, already make a significant contribution to the UK’s energy market. If the government is serious about supporting the UK’s clean growth, it is essential that they help create the market conditions for these prosumers to thrive.

Currently, many prosumers struggle to be viable without the ‘Feed-in-Tariff’ and ‘export tariff’ – these are not subsidies, but are key market mechanisms that enable prosumers to be paid at a fair rate for their energy and compete with large energy providers. Ultimately, without these mechanisms, small-scale renewable prosumers would be the only producers of energy in the UK not to be paid for their energy – which is clearly unfair given the varied benefits that they provide and would stifle a currently dynamic and innovative market.

We would be left in a situation where prosumers would effectively be providing a subsidy to the commercial energy market, and even large providers such as E.On, Ecotricity and Ovo Energy, have joined me in signing the letter as they agree that this would be unacceptable.

Small scale solar generation will help the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets, by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and other high-carbon energy sources. They also increase the UK’s energy generation capacity and improve the reliability of the National Grid – this is likely to become ever more important for the UK after we leave the EU, due to uncertainties about the cost and feasibility of importing energy and fuel.


Furthermore, supporting the prosumer market to grow and thrive will create economies of scale and reduce installation costs for others over time. This means of supporting the industry is a cost-effective policy which, in the medium to long term, makes renewable energy more accessible for individuals and businesses. In fact, in 2016 the IPPR estimated that community and local energy schemes contribute over £23m to community benefit funds, create jobs and help to support the local economy.

The government has displayed important and necessary ambition for wind power, underscoring the significance of these technologies to the UK’s future clean growth and energy security. However, the small-scale low-carbon generation sector offers many of the same benefits and future potential as wind power, so the level of ambition should be similar. Proposals to scrap both the Feed-in-Tariff and export tariff risk stifling a market that already makes invaluable contributions to the UK’s energy system and still has huge untapped potential.

In London, community energy projects receive support from Mayor Sadiq Khan via the London Community Energy Fund (LCEF). This enables community groups to tackle the challenge of high start-up costs, and begin generating clean, green and affordable energy sooner. Beneficiaries have been as diverse as schools in Ealing, Kentish Town City Farm, and New River Sports Centre in Haringey – this clearly shows the varied potential that a prosumer market offers.

I have worked hard with the mayor towards his ambition to make London a zero-carbon city by 2050 and changing our energy landscape is a key component of that. The second round of funding from the LCEF has just opened and I am excited to see the range of innovative projects being championed by Londoners. I would urge anyone seeking to get their community energy project off the ground to apply as soon as possibl.

I am glad that so many colleagues across the energy industry and from environmental organisations have come together in calling for a continuation of fair market conditions for prosumers. I now urge that the government takes heed of this clear support for small scale renewable energy generation, and urgently reverses the proposal.

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

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.