Greg Barker confirms solar ambition for London Sustainable Development Commission

Former climate change secretary and chairman of the London Sustainable Development Commission, Greg Barker, has told the industry that the commission has solar is in the “middle of its gunsights” and is looking to install the technology in the capital “with greater ambition and greater scale”.

Speaking at the Solar Trade Association’s Does the new government mean business for solar? event this week, Barker told attendees that he was excited by his new role’s “fantastic opportunity to reinvent the commission” and “carve out a narrative and policy agenda that would commensurate with London's role as Europe’s only mega city”.

Barker said that part of his new role was to oversee the increase in distributed generation across the capital, and that he views solar as integral to that push. The former energy minister said that a number of people in government and local government were “stuck in 2010” and were oblivious to the “massive change in economics, the massive change in versatility of solar”.

Barker added that solar had “huge potential” in the capital but that “its record in London over the last five years is crap”. He continued: “There are some very real reasons why solar deployment in London hasn’t happened. Firstly, you can’t do everything – the LGA has focused on district heating and CHP as being its technologies of choice for new-build and that’s where it is investing its finite resources. However, that is not to the exclusion of solar. In actual fact, solar is a very good partner for district heating and cooling.

“Another reason why solar hasn’t been installed in London is because of the high cost: the high cost of bringing your vans into the congestion zone, the high cost of retaining and employing labour in Central London; the high cost of doing anything that’s going to disrupt traffic flows. In addition, the high cost of London buildings means that the cost of solar is marginal at best, which means that when people are thinking about either tacking on or not tacking on solar, it’s a very insignificant consideration.

“There are very real practical reasons why London hasn’t installed solar. But as the products get better, as the aesthetics get better, and the applicability of solar gets better – that’s when we will get opportunity.”

Barker added: “There are 231 applications currently for tall buildings in London, which will transform the cityscape, I want solar to be part of that. But again, it’s incumbent on the industry to work with the planners and to work with the big landlords to push the envelope of innovation, design and application.”

When asked about previous comments made by Boris Johnson where he said that solar in London is never going to be “a big game-changer” because “of the difficulty of fitting photovoltaics (PV) in London by comparison with elsewhere in the country”, Barker defended Johnson: “I can reassure you that when I had my last sit down with Boris Johnson which was just before the general election, solar dominated the conversation."

“He’s very keen to see more solar deployed and that’s why he asked me and the commission to draw up a plan for how we will actually do that," continued Barker. "There are three elements to the commission, and I’ve appointed a policy leader on each. There is the work around the sector’s economy, work around innovation and particularly this cleantech cluster in London, and thirdly there is a distributed energy and energy efficiency group which has solar right in the middle of its gunsights and we will be coming through with a series of recommendations for how we deploy solar in London with greater ambition and greater scale.”