PV delivery unit could transform London solar, argues official

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Data from one of London’s leading officials has revealed that a mere 7% of schools in London, England, have solar panel arrays installed atop their roofs.

Jenny Jones, Green Party London Assembly Minister dealing with housing costs and conditions, civil liberties, and a member of the environment committee, has urged London mayor Boris Johnson to address the issue by agreeing to the creation of a dedicated Solar PV Delivery Unit at City Hall.

The unit’s aim would be to address London’s poor record on solar PV installations, not just in schools but across the entire city, encouraging greater take-up of PV in a region that has the lowest solar penetration rates in the U.K.

Jones is calling for the allocation of around $300,000 to the unit, which would be used to create new community energy schemes in London as well as focusing on ways to improve London schools’ solar footprint. Across the city there are 3,080 schools, but official data reveals that just 200 have solar panels installed.

"We have the opportunity to kick-start a solar revolution in London and to transform our empty rooftops into mini power stations," said Jones. "The Mayor could play a critical role, setting up a delivery unit to help schools and communities bust through the barriers and get thousands of panels installed.

"Without decisive Mayoral intervention, London risks falling even further behind in a field that has the greatest potential of any renewable electricity generating technology."

London’s solar problem

The thorny issue of just why London’s solar footprint is among the lightest in the U.K. was recently up for debate. Critics blame a lack of political leadership, while it is also widely accepted that London’s often transient population have little desire to invest in arrays that will not follow them when they move.

Others have suggested that London’s stark dichotomy of extremely wealthy and extremely poor inhabitants leaves little appetite for solar, while the realities of home ownership rates and cramped roof spaces have also been explored.

Data from the U.K.’s central feed-in tariff register shows that London has just 57,809 kW of installed solar PV capacity, putting it below the decidedly less sunny North East of England in terms of kW deployed.

With some of the U.K.’s highest insolation rates and more than eight million people, London’s solar shortfall is a rather curious blind spot.

The Solar Trade Association’s Leonie Greene told the Guardian newspaper that excuses made for London’s lack of solar suitability simply do not wash.

"There are always reasons why you can’t do things, but London is ideal for solar," she said. "You have a well-educated, politically aware population motivated by green issues, and a mayor who could make political leadership on it. If Yorkshire and Humber [in the North East] can do it, I have no doubt London can if it puts its weight behind it."

In the U.S., solar in cities has received solid backing in the form of various support schemes and campaigns, many of which are backed by the nationwide SunShot Initiative. Data from the NC Clean Energy Technology Center revealed recently that rooftop solar is cheaper than the grid in 42 of the 50 biggest cities in the U.S.