Background information for the green buildings campaign

A law making it a) mandatory for all suitable new roofs to be fitted with solar panels and b) banning fossil fuel powered boilers in new buildings, is vitally important to cut down on the vast quantities of easily achievable renewable energy deployment that are being wasted all of the time. 

The Government’s recently published ‘Future Homes’ and ‘Future Buildings’ strategies are unambitious, requiring carbon reductions, compared to the previous new build standards of around 30 per cent. But this will leave lots of new buildings without either (or both) solar panels or heat pumps.

According to the Building Research Establishment, if solar pv was installed on just all south-facing commercial roofspace ‘this could provide approximately 50% of the UK’s electricity demand’. Fitting solar panels on all houses could generate massive quantities of solar energy on top of this. If all buildings were powered by heat pumps this would reduce the amount of energy required for heating by up to two-thirds. That would save a quantity of energy even larger than from fitting solar pv on south facing commercial roofspace. If all of the electricity was supplied by renewable energy then the building energy use would be genuinely low carbon.

However, under the Government’s strategy, only some buildings will be covered by solar panels and heated by heat pumps. Moreover because no more than one or other measure (solar panels or heat pumps) will be needed to meet the new standards for a given building we shall be increasing the cost of meeting the 2050 net zero target. That is because it is much more expensive to retrofit existing buildings that do not have solar panels or heat pumps with these technologies than it is to fit them when the buildings are constructed.

Solar mandates for new buildings are becoming more and more common in Germany. Laws making solar panels mandatory on new buildings have been recently approved in Berlin, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hamburg. The programme of the SPD-Green-FDP coalition Federal Government includes a pledge to make solar panels compulsory for new buildings and the norm for domestic housing.

Growth in heat pumps installed in housing has been five times faster in Germany compared to the UK in recent years. 120,000 heat pumps were installed in Germany in 2020 whilst the UK Government has only enough grants available in their ‘Boiler Upgrade’ Programme to supply 26,000 heat pumps a year. The Government has promised to ban fossil fuel boilers in 2025, but the gas industry is fighting back with a plan to water down the Government’s policy so that it will allow buildings to be ‘zero-carbon-ready’ through the installation of ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers. This means that after 2025 the gas industry would be able to lock-in hundreds of thousands of new buildings every year into unsustainable natural gas use, with claims of future hydrogen supply being just a mirage.

In Berlin, which is mandating solar panels on new buildings. according to a report in ‘pvmagazine’: ‘The law’s new provisions apply to all new buildings as well as to major renovations of roofs in existing buildings with usable areas of more than 50 square meters……The photovoltaic systems must cover at least 30% of the roof area. Alternatively, various minimum requirements have been defined for residential buildings: Photovoltaic systems with a capacity of 2 kW must be installed for a maximum of two apartments, 3 kW systems for residential buildings with three to five apartments, and 6 kW systems for six to 10 apartments.’ Loans and grants will be available to support this law.

Of course an argument that is rolled out in opposition to proposals for mandatory solar panels on new roofs is that some roofs will pointing in the wrong direction. In fact there is every reason why solar pv should be fitted on roofs that are not south-facing. The reduction in solar production on such roofs can be relatively modest, possibly as low as 8 per cent, and no more than around 29 per cent less than for south facing roofs . Given the declining cost of fitting solar power systems there is little excuse for opposing a mandatory solar pv on new roofs.

However, it may be appropriate to give specific, limited, exemptions to the solar mandate rule within which local authorities can decide that solar panels are unsuitable. This may include conservation zones.

It is important also to promote, in the near term, much more energy efficient designs of buildings, involving thicker insulation, better use of passive solar energy, heat recovery and other techniques used in so-called ‘passivhaus‘ designs. Renewable energy needs to be conserved.

Getting as many signatures on this petition as possible will allow the promotion of various activities which can build support for the campaign for green buildings. Genuine green buildings not only generate solar power but  also have energy systems which allow an all-renewable energy system in the future to supply all of the energy used in that building. This will involve systems such as heat pumps, but will not be done by allowing gas fired boiler systems to be installed claiming that in future they will be powered by hydrogen. That’s not green buildings, it’s pure greenwash!

Activities in support of this campaign include: getting individual political parties to support the campaign; setting up an adjournment debate in Parliament; a Select Committee Inquiry; a Private Members Bill.

Important steps on the way to these things (and in between!) is to obtain support from individual Members of Parliament and also from as many solar power companies and trade bodies as is possible. So spread the links, as much as you can, to the petition and also this general information page!

Sign the petition here

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