In the UK, the two largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are the energy and transport sector. Respectively, in 2019 they made up 21% and 27% of the total greenhouse gases in the UK . In 2019, the UK became the first major country to enact a net-zero objective for carbon emissions by 2050 . The most notable declarations called for the sale of new petrol cars to be prohibited by 2030 and Boris Johnson stating that by the same year, offshore wind would produce enough electricity to power every home in the country .
But what part could new-build homes play in the UK’s renewable ambitions?
Public Movement and Demand for Solar
During the pandemic, many workers have been obligated to work from home, seeing a rise in electricity and heating bills. A study, completed by the BBC, recorded an increase in up to £45 a month in extra energy costs during the winter months . Spirit Energy also reported an increase in demand for solar panels, which coincides with the movement to working from home as many attempt to offset the rising costs and their carbon footprint .
In 2018 Dr Andrew Crossland, founder of MrGridGB, ran a petition to the UK Parliament asking for every new home in the UK to have solar panels installed as standard . He believes that solar panels on all new build homes should be mandatory through building regulations, much like the legislation in Scotland. In 2015, the Scottish Government passed a building regulation that encourages the installation of solar panels on all new housing development sites .
Why Push for New Homes Over Existing?
Before the pandemic hit, the UK was building over 170,000 new homes per year. This provides 170,000 new opportunities per year for solar panel placement. On average, a home with two residents will require 12 solar panels (equating to approximately a 3kW system). The average roof size in the UK is 65m² and 12 solar panels would cover 20m², just 30% of the entire footprint. 
A 2015 study, undertaken by the European Commissions, analysed that just 2.7% of UK households currently have solar panels installed, with a projected 3% by 2025 . Unfortunately, not all existing homes are suitable for solar panels. The structural integrity of existing roofs is often not designed for the weight of solar panels, and the orientation of the rooftops does not lend itself to optimal sunlight conditions for producing energy from the Sun. This is where new build homes become a unique opportunity for sustainable practices.
The installation of solar panels on a new home is cheaper than retrofitting to existing, as developers can buy the components in bulk and will already have safe roof access. This will also ensure that the utilities infrastructure of the home is already compatible with solar, as many pre-existing and outdated heating systems are not suitable. The cost of solar panels can be offset within 12 years, and having this cost incorporated into the purchase price of a property is often seen as more manageable than a retrospective fit.
Could This be the Way Forward?
There is still much more that needs to happen to reach the Government’s aspirations of renewable energy powered households by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. However, exploiting the construction of new build homes that promote energy efficiency, such as solar panels, could provide a solid start.
About Pager Power
Pumford, E., 2021. Can new-build homes lead the renewable energy revolution?. Power Engineering International.
the Guardian. 2021. Boris Johnson to unveil plan to power all UK homes with wind by 2030.
BBC News. 2021. Covid: People working from home ‘face £45 monthly energy bill rise’.
Woon, D., 2021. Working from Home with Solar PV.
Crossland, D., 2021. Solar PV on UK Homes: A new build requirement – MyGridGB.
Gov.scot. 2021. New build homes to be more energy efficient – gov.scot.
Jäger-Waldau, A., PV Status Report 2019, EUR 29938 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-12608-9, doi:10.2760/326629, JRC118058.
Image accreditation: https://pixabay.com/photos/solar-panels-placement-green-energy-943999/.
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