Commercial rooftop solar

Speech by Minister of State Gregory Barker to the British Photo Voltaic Association.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Gregory Barker

Many thanks for the opportunity to speak at today’s conference.

I’d particularly like to thank Reza Shaybani and the BPVA, for having pulled together such an impressive event.

I understand some 300 people are here today, representing hundreds of organisations…from solar developers and installers, to property companies, project managers and financiers.

Today I want to make the case for you to focus on solar in your investment plans.

Solar, a technology which is intuitive and easy to install.

Solar, a technology which is popular – with Government figures showing that over 80% of the public support it.

And solar, a technology which – crucially – is amongst the cheapest and most cost-competitive of all technologies in the renewables family.

Last year we published our ground-breaking Solar Strategy. Ambitious, comprehensive, forward-looking…

The first such Strategy of any European country.

A strategy designed to drive deployment up and costs down.

Today I’d like to leave you with three thoughts.

First, solar has made huge strides in the UK in the last few years.

But second, there is much more to do. Particularly in the all-important rooftop sector, which is the focus of today’s conference.

And third, this Government is not just a spectator. We are committed to driving rooftop solar deployment. And we are putting in place a raft of incentives to do just that - overcoming both financial and non-financial barriers to encourage a revolution in the installation of UK rooftop solar.

With this clear Government direction, I hope that you will leave today’s conference energised and ready to bring solar – at scale – into your organisations.

So let me just reflect on solar’s extraordinary success in recent years.

The graph on the screen behind me shows solar deployment since 2010.

You may have heard that, when I reformed solar tariffs in 2011, I was accused by many of killing the sector stone dead.

Well, that is quite an afterlife!

As you can see, we’ve seen an incredible growth in solar. From almost nothing in 2010, to over 3.2GW currently deployed.

Most of this – the blue bars on the chart – has been supported by the Government’s Feed-in Tariff. Over half a million homes now have solar on their roofs, thanks to this subsidy.

By way of illustration, this 3.2GW is enough to power some 600,000 homes.

Last weekend, during the day, solar supplied over 8% of the electricity on the UK grid.

Power which is, of course, clean and popular.

But power which also brings many other benefits.

The National Solar Centre estimates that solar creates some 14,000 jobs in the UK – up and down the country.

According to the Renewable Energy Association, investment in solar has brought some £2.2 billion into the British economy in 2012/13 alone.

And the export possibilities are endless…with countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and – most recently – India setting hugely ambitious targets to deploy solar at scale.

Now, why has this happened?

The biggest single reason is the fall in the price of solar. This has been quite spectacular.

When I became Minister, the typical household installation cost north of £15,000.

It’s now £5,000 and falling. This brings it within the grasp of many more households. Even IKEA, that paragon of value and Scandinavian thrift, is now starting to sell domestic panels in its stores.

And there’s every sign that the price will continue to fall. Allowing us to stretch our – generous but limited – subsidy budget ever further, supporting even more solar in the UK.

But there’s another reason why solar has become so big in the UK. Innovation.

New centres of innovation have sprung up around the country to research cutting-edge applications of solar…

…from Oxford to London, Loughborough to Cornwall.

So, for example, excellent innovative companies are developing high-technology, next generation products.

Oxford PV and Polysolar, for example, are designing new materials which can replace glass…

…turning the very windows of our buildings into solar panels….

…making skyscrapers into power generators.

Meanwhile, SolarCentury is adapting to new Solar Shingle technology, which will allow you to install aesthetically-pleasing solar into the very fabric of your roofs.

There are many other examples. Some of you may have seen the BBC reports last week about Liverpool University’s research into concentrated solar, using bath salts – of all things – to reduce the price of solar panels.

Now, many in the industry would say that much of this growth in solar has come from large-scale fields.

That’s not true. I’ve personally seen great examples of solar roofs across the country.

  • Bentley’s 5.1MW panels in Crewe, covering almost 3 and a half hectares, generating up to 40% of the factory’s peak energy needs.

  • Sainsbury’s 2.3MW installation in Birmingham.

  • Jaguar Land Rover’s 5.8MW installation in Coventry.

  • The 1MW ‘solar bridge’ at Blackfriars here in London; over 6 thousand panels, producing half of the station’s energy.

I understand even Greggs Bakers (no relation…) have installed more than 1.2MW on their bakeries across England and Wales.

But – and this is my second point – there is much more to do.

My personal ambition is to see 20GW of solar deployed, here in the UK, early in the next decade.

I want the lions’ share of that to be deployed on previously used, rather than greenfield land.

That means disused airfields, old mines, car parks, waste sites. It means unproductive bits of Government land.

Such as the 1MW Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall…

…or Nottingham’s plans to install two football-pitch sized solar canopies over park and ride sites around the city, powering that city’s electric bus fleet.

But, most of all, it means roofs. Commercial roofs. Industrial roofs. Domestic roofs.

There are two reasons for this. First, we need to maintain public support for solar. And I believe the public would prefer to see solar on roofs, rather than displacing green fields and agriculture, or in areas of natural beauty.

But second, it makes sense to generate electricity close to where it’s needed.

That avoids power losses in transmission.

It displaces expensive electricity purchased at retail process.

It avoids the need for expensive and, often unsightly, infrastructure.

It provides electricity at a guaranteed price, something ever more important as international oil and gas prices look to rise.

Rather than add to the list of problems for a sometimes-overloaded grid, it can actually reduce the pressure on the distributed network operator.

When coupled with storage, it offers a genuine 24-hour alternative for homes and my Department is funding cutting-edge research into energy storage, including a £1.2 million grant to Moixa to develop new applications.

Finally, interestingly, studies have shown that distributed generation encourages energy efficiency. If you own – and see every day – panels generating electricity, you are more likely to reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

These – many – reasons for decentralised energy are why I’ve been calling for a whole new approach to electricity generation. Not the old, discredited system of a few large players but a huge number of energy generators, large and small, operating up and down the country.

Replacing the Big Six with the Big 60,000.

Now, many people say that this can’t be done. You can’t build 20GW of solar just on roofs.

They are wrong!

First, look at the figures. According to our internal studies, Britain has a quarter of a million hectares of south-facing commercial roof space.

Even if we used a fraction of this, we would be well on our way to my 20GW ambition.

And second, look at the practice.

In addition to the examples I’ve already mentioned, a range of other organisations are looking at installing solar on roofs.

  • BT already gets 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. And has said recently that it wants to lift barriers from putting solar on its telephone exchanges across the UK.

  • Savills, the property firm, is taking action to resolve problems due to different incentives between landlords and tenants.

  • Access Energy is building solar into the social housing sector.

There are hundreds of other examples. And I hope that, after today’s conference, you will consider doing likewise.

Because – and let me be candid – solar still has a problem in this country.

Have a look at this graph, from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

It shows the mix of solar – between residential, commercial, industrial and ground-mount – for various different European countries.

As you can see, many countries have healthy amounts of commercial (yellow) and industrial (green) solar. See France for example; or Germany; Greece; even Italy.

But look at the UK. The vast majority of our solar is residential (grey) and ground-mount (red). Very little is commercial or industrial.

I want to fundamentally change those proportions. I want to put rocket-boosters under the commercial and industrial solar sectors here in Britain.

Which brings me to the third point of my speech – what the Government is doing to encourage this sector.

Back in April, I launched the first-ever UK Solar Strategy.

That made it clear and completely unambiguous that I want to promote the mid-sized commercial rooftop sector.

To do so, we have already acted.

We have simplified the accreditation process with Ofgem.

We announced a consultation last month, to change the subsidy tariffs we provide small-scale solar, under the Government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme in such a way that would give more certainty about higher tariffs to people putting solar on roofs rather than fields.

We are creating a new Government-industry working group to help bring down the costs of Building Integrated Solar PV. An exciting technology which has the potential to revolutionise new buildings in this country.

But we aren’t just talking the talk. We in Government are walking the walk, and leading by example.

We have announced an intention to deploy half a gigawatt of solar on the Government estate, much of it on roofs and there is now a team in the Cabinet Office dedicated to making this bold project a reality.

A team which is doing everything from securing new finance, to designing new 20-year leases, to finding underutilised Government sites across the land suitable for solar.

And I launched with Michael Gove in April a new push to get solar onto the roofs of Britain’s 24,000 schools. An excellent way to both deploy solar and educate the next generation about the role of renewable energy in tackling dangerous climate change.

But I can announce today a series of new measures we are taking to supercharge the solar rooftop sector.

On schools, we – together with the BPVA and Friends of the Earth – will launch a new campaign later this year to encourage students parents, teachers and Governors to install solar on school roofs.

This will kick off with a large conference dedicated to the subject in the autumn term.

In the agricultural sector, I intend to host a joint Ministerial roundtable with the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to lift the barriers to solar on farm buildings, such as grain sheds, livestock buildings, freezer stores, and so on.

And for commercial and industrial roofs, I will also be hosting a roundtable on 9 September to bring together landlords, estate agents, lawyers, large retailers and solar developers to agree practical steps to lift barriers which prevent deployment of solar because of the division between landlords and tenants.

I am particularly pleased that the Solar Trade Association have been working with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to ensure that the value of solar PV on roofs is properly reflected in the value of houses.

We are also acting to lift regulations which limit rooftop solar.

I can confirm today that the Department of Communities & Local Government will consult over the summer on permitted development to simplify the bureaucracy of installing solar on non-domestic properties, on larger roofs – from 50kW to 1MW.

I can also confirm that we are examining whether there are inexpensive ways to allow the transfer of solar panels between buildings when the user moves, without losing the Government subsidy.

The industry is doing its bit too.

Reza tells me that the BPVA is working with the Low Carbon Alliance to bring the property and solar sectors closer together.

And I would encourage you all to look at the new Rated Solar Installer programme, an industry-led initiative, which would allow consumers the ability to rate solar firms…maintaining public confidence in the industry…and encouraging a healthy competition to raise standards while keeping prices low.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. My excellent team in DECC is keen to hear all your proposals to drive rooftop solar deployment.

So please contact us, if you haven’t already. Give us your ideas. You are the people who know the sector best. And we want to learn from you.

We will build your suggestions into our programme of work to ensure an ambitious rate of growth in rooftop solar.

In conclusion, the future for commercial rooftop solar in the UK offers huge opportunities.

They are there to be seized. Not because it will tick a box on your CSR returns.

But because generating clean electricity onsite, at an attractive price, with bang up to date technology, makes strong economic sense.

Work with us, to take the solar revolution to the next stage.

Have a great conference.

Published 1 July 2014