Are we living in the past when it comes to renewable energy for homes?
Driving past a development of newly built houses in my village the other day, something about the roofs struck me as odd.
They were covered in beautifully rustic slates, each with a light, dusty finish that echoed the charm of the Cotswold stone beneath. So what’s so odd about that? Well, in an age of spiralling energy costs and diminishing fossil fuels, why on earth weren’t these new roofs clad in solar panels?
I suspect I know the answer. Most buyers, particularly in the picturesque Cotswolds, want a house that looks as if it’s been around for hundreds of years – even if it’s brand spanking new. But does this mean that we’re also living in the past when it comes to our use of energy?
Here comes the sun
Let’s look at solar power in more detail. It’s said that if a third of the UK’s homes were covered in solar panels, it would produce around 6% of the country’s annual electricity needs. On a glorious summer’s day, it could even be as much as 40%!
Given these statistics, it seems crazy not to make the installation of solar panels a natural part of the house building process. But it seems that, when it comes to renewable energy for homes, mad dogs and Englishmen ignore the midday sun.
Cost is a hot topic
The problem, house builders say, is that installation is expensive, and buyers don’t want to pay extra. But the cost of solar panels has plummeted in recent years. What’s more, if all of the house builders got together to install the equipment as a matter of course, economies of scale would see the price tumble even faster.
In fact, a study at Imperial College London shows that, within 16 years, the overall cost of solar power should be no more than that for coal and gas. The big difference being that the sun will be around for another five billion years … unlike the finite stuff that’s locked in the earth.
So what’s our Government doing to promote this perpetual form of energy? I’m afraid the outlook there isn’t too sunny.
Cut the ‘green crap’?
In recent months, Ed Miliband’s focus on the ‘cost of living crisis’ has shone a spotlight on the problem of sky-rocketing fuel bills. People are starting to question whether the big energy companies are ripping us off.
Unfortunately, the Government’s response had been to attack the green levies that are built into those bills – or the ‘green crap’ as the Prime Minister is rumoured to have called them. Strip those out, so the thinking goes, and consumers will see an immediate fall in their payments.
It’s a quick political fix … but with a damaging long-term effect. That’s because it’s the green levies that help subsidise solar panels. It’s the green levies that help convert freezing cold properties into warm, energy-efficient homes. It’s the green levies that help fund ‘passive houses’: super-green homes that re-use the heat generated by cooking and people moving around.
So that ‘green crap’ is actually the key to our future!
And what of that romantic desire to live in centuries-old homes? It may happen sooner than we think. Because without a more serious investment in renewable power sources like solar energy, we’ll all be living in the dark ages.