Many were shocked by Ofgem’s announcement that energy bills are going to rise by £120 for millions of households. According to Ofgem, the rise is sparked by increases in wholesale energy prices. This price increase is of enormous concern considering one in nine households in London is already living in fuel poverty. With prices soaring, those struggling to cover the costs of their electricity bills will only suffer more.

At a time of extreme global energy market uncertainty, including the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU following Brexit, renewable energy sources have the potential to add capacity and build resilience to the network, which in turn will help control price fluctuations. It is also essential to recognize that supporting low-income Londoners to heat their homes goes hand in hand with decarbonizing the UK energy system and protecting the planet.

Solar Power Potential In London

With Greater London covering an area of almost 1,600 km2, of which one-third consists of building rooftops, London has enormous potential space for solar PV and solar thermal technologies. Rooftops, however, are not the only suitable location for solar technologies. There is plenty of vacant land and open space, building facades, and alongside thousands of kilometers of roads and railway sidings in London. These all hold potentially huge but unquantified opportunities for installing renewable technologies.

Unfortunately, London’s economic potential for solar power installations is less compelling. The Greater London Authority (GLA) evaluated the economic potential for solar PV and solar thermal technologies as part of its zero-carbon pathways modeling to advise the London Solar Environment Strategy. They took into account the financial constraints resulting from current UK government policies, primarily the reduction to FiTs, along with the trends in deployment between 2010 and 2017. The GLA study projected that under an ambitious scenario, solar PV installations would reach around 550 MW capacity by 2025, 850 MW capacity by 2030, and 2 GW capacity by 2050. In addition, solar thermal could potentially contribute the equivalent of roughly an additional 100 MW by 2030.

Actions To Increase Solar Energy In London

It is projected that London will need to install around 1 GW by 2030 and around 2 GW of solar energy by 2050 to contribute to their zero-carbon target by 2050. There is a possibility that this target could be achieved if the government works closely with London residents, building and estate managers and owners, local businesses, and community groups. However, the target’s success requires the government to provide constant and long-term policy certainty to facilitate the UK solar industry to grow confidently and attain cost reductions via greater deployment rates.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, plans to do all he can within his power to increase the number of solar energy technologies installed in London. The Mayor’s Office estimates that their intended actions could deliver around an extra 100 MW of installed solar energy production in London by 2030 to contribute to the broader zero-carbon target. Sadiq Khan has proposed the following five solar objectives to achieve the target:

  • Lead by example by expanding solar energy technologies on Greater London Authority land and buildings;
  • Promote solar energy systems through the council planning systems;
  • Facilitate Londoners to retrofit solar energy technologies on their homes and workplaces through Mayoral programmes and grants;
  • Assist Londoners in making informed decisions about investing in solar companies;
  • Call on the government to set a national policy framework that unlocks London’s solar energy potential.

Powering London’s Underground With Solar Energy

Along with the London mayor’s plans to reach a carbon-neutral target by 2050, Sadiq Khan announced plans in summer 2020 to aim for the Transport for London (TfL) Tube network to run off 100% renewable energy. TfL has launched a market test of tube networks to be supplied with electricity directly from solar and wind sources as a part of the commitment to deliver a carbon-neutral rail network by 2030.

The switch to renewable energy could significantly impact lowering the capital’s carbon emissions as the London tube is currently one of the largest electricity consumers in the United Kingdom. It requires 1.6TWh each year which is the equivalent electricity consumed by over 437,000 homes. At present, the Tube network sources electricity from the national grid’s mix of power generators. However, the mayor’s new proposal outlines a rail network supplied directly by solar and wind farms.

British Business Energy conducted a study that stated that around 200 wind turbines or 5.6 million solar panels would be required to power the entire tube network on renewable energy. As it stands, only 16% of the electricity used to power the London underground comes from renewable sources, but if all goes to plan, London’s underground will be fueled with 100% renewable electricity by 2030. This will make the London transport system more cost-effective at the same time as tackling the climate crisis.

Closing Thoughts

Cities like London struggle to install large scale wind farms, so the flexibility of small-scale low-carbon energy generation of solar panels makes it an excellent solution for the capital. An increase in solar energy installations will help improve energy system capacity and increase electricity demands. Along with the environmental advantages of solar energy, it will also ensure London has a low cost and resilient energy market to support those living in fuel poverty.

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