Despite its obvious potential and ample roof space, London’s solar market has yet to gather its stride. Earlier this week figures released by Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones revealed that just 5% of the 16,000 solar installations in London were non-domestic, and huge variations in deployment have been recorded between London boroughs.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal, Jones said the capital’s sluggish uptake of solar has been down to a “failure of leadership” from Mayor of London Boris Johnson, but noted things were finally looking better on the horizon. The London Sustainable Development Council will look to accelerate deployment and the next phase of London’s RE:FIT programme looks to have solar far higher up the priority list.

With London electing a new mayor next year, could London be on the cusp of a far more concentrated deployment effort?

London has the potential to be a significant market for rooftop solar but has yet to take off, what are the principle reasons for that?

First and foremost it has been a failure of leadership to recognise its potential and to put in place proactive programmes to maximise its uptake across London’s homes, schools, warehouses and businesses. For instance, Transport for London, the Mayor’s transport arm has 300 locations across London, yet there is more installed solar PV on the Olympic car Park in Stratford, than on TfL entire estate.  Even taking account of London’s unique challenges, a higher proportion of flats and higher costs etc, there is only one solar installation for every 200 homes. In Scotland it’s one in every 60 homes; the South West one in 26.

Why do you think some London Boroughs have installed far less solar than others? Does the support differ between authorities?

We have not carried out any extensive research, but where you have Boroughs with proactive programmes, deployment is more likely to happen. For instance Waltham Forest has four times more domestic solar PV than its neighbouring borough Enfield with a similar housing stock. 

Do the RE:FIT and RE:NEW programmes need to engage with and support Local Authorities more than they have been in order to stimulate solar deployment?

Absolutely. For instance, when I found out last year that not a single school had gone ahead with solar PV as a result of the RE:FIT programme I knew this was symptomatic of the lack of priority given. I therefore lobbied the Mayor to develop a GLA-based Solar PV Delivery Unit to co-ordinate activity and share best practice to maximise deployment across the GLA estate, social housing, schools and community energy. Solar will be a one of the priorities for the new phase of RE:FIT. So there appears to be significant progress, but I will be very keen to monitor their progress and continue liaising with solar stakeholders.  

Is London really any worse than other major cities in the UK and internationally with regards to solar deployment?  

We have not carried out any extensive UK city data comparisons in terms of installations and capacity installed. Instead we monitor DECC’s feed in tariff solar PV regional data. It has shown that London as a region consistently lagging behind all others, including Scotland and all other northern regions. However, when we compared some London boroughs with similar housing stocks to boroughs in the north of England, the differences were stark. For instance Wigan had eight times more solar installs than Wandsworth, or Sunderland 20 times more than Southwark.

How important is the London Sustainable Development Commission’s role in triggering solar deployment, and what do you hope to see from them in the coming months?  

Very, appointing the former energy and climate change minister Greg Barker was an extremely positive step and I would support and encourage him to go for the boldest city solar programme that reflects the urgency of tackling climate change and the need to decarbonise our energy supplies. This means extensive retrofitting of solar panels on existing buildings and going for maximum capacity on new housing developments. But also driving through the innovation and new design so that no surface of tall buildings is wasted.   

What does the next Mayor of London need to do, and how high will renewables and solar be on the agenda? 

Tackling climate change should be the new Mayor’s overarching priority across all Mayoral programmes on the scale that is needed to mitigate and to adapt our city to the extreme weather events that are expected to be the norm. As part of this, the Mayor needs to develop a solar strategy/action plan for London with sufficient resources behind it and buy in from a wide range of solar stakeholders, including academic institutions specialising in solar energy. In addition, the new Mayor should be an enthusiastic advocate in promoting and helping London’s residents, businesses, schools, communities to harvest solar electricity from their underused and empty roof tops.