After months of waiting, London’s solar strategy was finally published earlier this month with new measures including a reverse solar tender and support for community energy schemes at its heart.
Solar Power Portal sat down with Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor of London for energy and the environment, to discuss City Hall’s plans for solar in London across residential, community and public sector initiatives.
Solar deployment in London has been historically low, with less than 100MW thought to have been deployed. Why is this the case and how will you overcome these issues to reach City Hall’s target to double this by 2030?
There wasn't any attention given to it in the previous administration and there could have been a lot more. We know that solar community energy groups have been asking for help but there just wasn't the understanding of the role it can play in helping to decarbonise London.
The other aspect is national policy and the fact that the stable framework and financial support has been withdrawn, so it’s just left people adrift.
But what has been great is seeing the community energy groups ploughing on with their own crowdfunding and plugging away so what we want to do as part of our Energy for Londoners programme is provide support on solar, not just to community energy groups.
We'll be making available up to £300,000 to help develop more solar [through community schemes] and we're also going to run alongside that a reverse solar auction so we can start to help private householders to benefit from lower cost panels.
One of the main issues for residential solar in London is the high proportion of rented accommodation, whereby the person making the decision to install solar is not the one benefitting from it. How will you incentivise landlords?
This will be open to landlords as something that will benefit them and their tenants but it’s the same kind of issue we have with commercial landlords in terms of the disincentive between installation and energy efficiency measures. But I think it’s the promotion that this will help both deal with their energy problems. It’s going to help reduce fuel bills for tenants, potentially reduce arrears; it's about selling the advantages.
Rumours of a London feed-in tariff (FiT) have been thrown around for months in the wake of reduced national subsidies. Was this ever under consideration?
It’s a difficult one because we're already paying through our bills for contributions to FiTs so a London FiT would be an additional double whammy on people in London. Our view is that funding community energy groups or the other support [announced] is probably a better way to go, whilst we continue to advocate to government the policy that would enable a fair share of that FiT to come to London.
What kind of community schemes do you see coming forward under the solar strategy funding?
We're seeing a number of community groups talking to local schools or hospitals where they've identified a need in their community and they've garnered the support. Now it's about making it happen.
We're being realistic; we know that £300,000 is not going to deliver lots of solar panels but what it is going to do is help them with what they've told us they need.
[Both] we and the London Assembly have held consultations with them and what they need help with is some of the legal frameworks, business cases and financial advice. A lot of them are doing crowd funding and doing really well because people understand the benefit in their community. We're responding to what they are putting forward and we think through that we'll see a number of projects coming through.
On schools there has been the well-documented issue of rising business rates. Those are locally set by councils so has or will there been any push from the mayor's office towards boroughs to address London business rates on solar?
Not on business rates but we've asked our team to look to see what we might do with schools and understand what the barriers are to rolling out more solar on schools. Some of it is to do with the business rates issue, some is just practical stuff so we're looking to understand what the barriers are, where the interest is and where we might help.
When schools were under local authority control it was easier to do but now they are essentially independent companies so trying to gather all that together can be difficult. But we know there can be solutions and that's where you come back to community groups who are working with school governors to see how to push this forward."
What measures are or will be in place to ensure that boroughs work to increase their share of renewable generation in London?
We have an offsetting fund available for energy efficiency and solar measures so this is something the boroughs could do.
Those that have set up offsetting funds have their own rules so we're proposing to set guidance which would include how you might use that funding to support decentralised energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. There's a lot of money that has been collected in those boroughs which could go to boosting community energy, solar and so on.
If those boroughs don’t chose to use the offsetting fund for renewable energy, would you push harder to ensure progress made in deployment within the boroughs?
The first step is to offer the guidance as we don't know what the appetite is. On the whole boroughs are very keen to support renewable energy and what their communities want. The mayor, where he needs to be, will stand firm on issues and say what he thinks and do what he can within his powers but first of all let's see how it goes.
What other measures are you introducing to boost solar outside of residential and community deployment?
We've asked the GLA family to start mapping what they might be able to do on their own buildings and land to understand what's feasible for solar and start to identify what more we might be able to do to mobilise money to support that.
We know that in order to deliver the new infrastructure in London that we need we're going to need to find a load more funding post-Brexit. So we're looking to see how we might mobilise more money into London through discussions with Corporation of London, green finance initiatives and understanding what the barriers are to mobilising that money, some of which needs to go to energy efficiency and solar.
The draft solar stratagy was published as part of the London environment strategy consultation which closes on 17 November.