Why don’t new homes have solar panels?

Written by

Lewis Morgan

Posted on

June 12, 2019

Last week I was at the Fully Charged Show at Silverstone and went to several panel discussions based around renewable energy in the UK.

At one panel “Wind, Solar & Storage” someone in the audience asked, “Why aren’t all new homes in the UK built with solar PV and batteries?”

The entire audience cheered and applauded.

No official answer was given, and for good reason. That’s because nobody really knows why it’s not a requirement. But there are arguments for both why and why it shouldn’t be part of regulations.

Carbon-emissions target

The UK has a target of cutting CO2 emissions 80% by 2050 but the Government has said itself that it “is now way off target with its climate change commitments and carbon targets.”

If new-builds were to have solar panels installed and batteries to store that energy, the UK would benefit from a reduction in CO2.

The more energy harnessed from the sun means less energy is required to be generated by other methods that aren’t “clean”.

Benefit to the homeowner

My girlfriend and I have recently bought a 5-bedroom house which as, you can imagine, isn’t the cheapest to run. If it had solar panels and a battery I probably would’ve offered full price.

A house that has solar panels installed is a fantastic selling point. And once you’re moved in, you can really begin to benefit.

Solar PV will enable some households to enjoy parts of the year where they’re 100% self-powered, significantly reducing their electric bill.

A new law was introduced this week that says solar homes and businesses creating and exporting electricity to the grid will be guaranteed a payment from suppliers.

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) will ensure small-scale electricity generators installing solar, wind or other forms of renewable generation with a capacity up to 5MW will be paid for each unit of electricity they sell to the grid – tracked by their smart meter.

Some homes more efficient than others

There are cases of course where a roof may be facing in the least efficient direction for solar panels.

A petition on the parliament website suggested a policy that would ensure calculations are carried out to see if a house would gain enough benefit from the panels to justify the cost:

“To ensure value for money for all: I would like to see the policy implemented in such a way that each new home has to undergo a cost-benefit analysis using a nationally recognised and enforced calculator. If the returns of that analysis are above a threshold return (9%) and a 10 year payback then the house builder should be mandated to add solar panels. This shall be submitted as part of the planning process. Homes that don’t meet that criteria won’t have to have solar installed.”

Scotland have done it

In 2015, the Scottish Government brought in new building regulations that encouraged developers to install solar panels to help keep carbon dioxide emissions below a certain level.

The calculated carbon dioxide emissions are assessed using a government-approved method (SAP2012), which is available in software form.

The level the designer must keep below is arrived at by calculating the emissions from a house of the same shape, but with energy performance features defined in the regulations, a so-called ‘notional dwelling’. The thermal insulation performance (U-value) for the walls, floor, roof and openings is defined for this notional dwelling, as well as other features such as values for air-tightness, the type of heating system and other energy saving measures such as use of low energy light fittings.

The reason for taking this approach is that it is not prescriptive. It allows the building industry to experiment with combinations of measures that achieve the overall goal (lower carbon emissions) in the best way for them, which almost always means the cheapest way.

A change of attitude

There’s certainly been a change of attitude towards climate change and the environment in England, but until that same change is felt across the UK Government, it’ll be down to local councils to enforce regulations.

Local councils have the power to set higher energy requirements for new builds, and solar PV can help meet those requirements.

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