On May 1, 2019, UK MPs approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency. It follows a period when London streets were paralysed by protesters from Extinction Rebellion and heightened coverage in the news and popular media of the harm that humans and industrialisation have done to the planet. It is only a proposal which demonstrates the will of the Commons, but there is no legal compulsion for the government to act on the issue. Of course, individuals can push their own home to be more energy efficient with an EPC London assessment. However, a government enforced programme would ensure more is done about the environmental situation.

Labour policy

This is one of the steps in what Jeremy Corbyn is calling a “Green Industrial Revolution” to tackle the climate emergency. The plans, should the Labour Party be called upon to lead the nation after a general election (how soon that might be remains a a matter for debate), are aimed at tackling climate change but with measures that would benefit the working class. Two major ideas are putting the ownership of the National Grid in public hands with profits invested in renewable energy and 1.75 million homes to be installed with solar panels.

The plans were unveiled on visit to a social housing estate in Walkden, Salford, where the houses have solar panels.  Corbyn also stated that an additional 750,000 properties would be able to install solar panels with the aid of grants, interest-free loans, and changes to regulations. The Shadow Business Secretary, Mrs. Rebecca Long-Bailey, said the planned measures were the “equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road”.

As well as tackling the issue of climate change, Labour states the installation of solar panels will benefit consumers  by

  • Reducing electricity bills; Labour claim that bill-payers in social and low-income homes could save £117 per year, and for retired households, the figure increases to £270.
  • The additional (unused) energy generated by solar panels in social and low-income homes can be exported to the grid, creating more economic benefits. Labour estimates £66 million could be generated in this way with this money being used to bump up local authority funds to maintain and increase local services.
  • Additional energy created by solar panels on non-social housing could also be sold to the national grid. 

It is estimated by the Labour party that these solar panel initiatives will create 16,900 jobs and prevent 7.1 million tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

The Current Government on Solar Panels

Although the UK Government no longer has a grant scheme for people who wish to buy and install solar panels and the Feed-In Tariff was stopped in March 2019, they do support ways that make solar panels accessible. Solar panels are seen as one of the routes to help achieve the target of 20 per cent  of UK energy being generated by renewable sources by 2020, under the EU Renewable Energy Directive.

The current government-backed scheme is the Renewable Heat Incentive.

The RHI provides support to businesses and householders who switch from traditional to renewable heat technologies, which includes solar thermal panels, pellet stoves, biomass boilers, and other systems which help reduce the UK’s carbon emissions. The aid lasts 7-years after the switch and is in the form of quarterly cash payments, the value of which depends on the latest tariffs for the type of technology. To be eligible for the RHI payment, the property must have an up-to-date Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

Prior to March 2019, there was a programme called Feed-In Tariffs. Owners of solar panels were able to sell the excess energy they used to the power companies. This attracted companies who wished to take advantage of the feed-in tariffs when there were at their highest point and many “buy back” schemes became available. Also known as “solar equity release”, homeowners effectively rented out their roof space for 20-25 years to solar panel installers benefitting from the electricity generated but not the income from the feed-in tariffs. With the cessation of the FIT, the buy schemes are no longer as lucrative. There are still buy back schemes available, but business and homeowners should take great care in understanding the benefits the company is offering.

One of the reasons the Feed-In Tariffs were scrapped is because solar panels have become more affordable. They are however still an investment, so it is always best to fully understand the cost and potential savings. An EPC is the best way to receive an assessment of how your home or business premises might benefit from power generated by solar panels.

UK Government policies may change depending on who is in power and what decisions about renewable energies might be made after Brexit when the UK is no longer tied to the EU to make deals on climate change.