Electricity self-sufficiency

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Now here’s an idea: make it compulsory for all new buildings to be built with enough rooftop solar capacity to make them electricity-neutral throughout the year. At a stroke this would double the rate of growth of rooftop solar.

According to Government figures published in January 2014 there were around 500,000 rooftop installations of solar panels in the UK and given the speed with which they were being installed at least another 100,000 should have been added since.

The NHBC says there were just over 145,000 new homes built during 2014 and it looks likely the same or more will be built again this year (There have been calls for at least 300,000 homes to be built to ease the housing crisis). Adding solar to all those roofs could have a dramatic impact.

This is not a new idea. In 2012 Carlisle MP John Stevenson called on the Government to make it compulsory that all new-builds have solar panels, but to no effect.

Given the targets for emissions reduction set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008 simple measures like this should have appeal.

One potential issue is the added cost. However, a typical system costs between £5k and £8k and the average home in the UK now costs £272,000 so even assuming the whole sum was added to the price (unlikely given the economies of scale) that’s a hike of less than 3%. Given the fact that the panels effectively mean free electricity in the future any increased house price should be baked in for the future, too.

And it’s likely that the innovation spurred by all that activity will reduce costs in the future – solar costs have already plummeted as this chart illustrates nicely.

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Another concern is aesthetics, although this is again likely to be overblown. Firstly, what is aesthetically normal changes over time (think electricity pylons) so as panels become more widespread their acceptance will grow. Secondly, with a steady market housebuilders and architects are likely to compete to develop more visually appealing installations, which again should lead to a rapid increase in innovation and benefit the further acceleration of solar adoption.

The share of UK electricity generated through solar of all types (commercial and large scale included) was 1.25% according to Government figures but it is rising rapidly. Sensible interventions could supercharge the growth.

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