One Million Solar Roofs in Britain: Join the Revolution

One to one million solar homes

June’s G7 summit in Bavaria ended with leaders of the world’s major industrial nations pledging to end reliance on fossil fuels by 2100. A month later on July 7th in my Oxford Ecohouse I threw a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first solar roof in Britain and reaching the milestone of over one million people now living in solar homes in Britain.


The citizens of Britain have been building the foundations for a sustainable solar future for two decades, under the radar, and against many odds, not least the barriers placed before them by many of the interested vested in Big Energy. UK now has over 8GW of installed PV energy of which around 2.3 GW is in domestic systems. The UK has only 9.4GW of installed nuclear capacity much of which is scheduled for cripplingly expensive decommissioning over the next decade or so. Solar energy is the People’s Power of choice: Safe, Clean and increasingly affordable for all.


In 1995 I installed the first integrated solar roof on my own home in Oxford, despite facing opposition from the energy industry at the time and being told by the Government that it would never work “because there is not enough sunshine in Britain”. The solar panels are still generating electricity and hot water and generate enough heat and electricity to ensure that this six bedroom home still has one of the lowest carbon footprints for any building in Britain. Averaged over the last 20 years the house uses only 13.2 kWhm2 of gas and electricity and produces only 4 kg CO2 m2 each year, a fraction of the impacts of most modern buildings.


My solar roof helped light the spark that started the UK solar revolution and 20 years later over 1 million people across the country are living in houses powered by solar energy and by the end of 2015 it is predicted that there will actually be over 1 million solar roofs in Britain. My PV roof system cost me £28,000 and to build it I needed to change Local Planning and Building Regulations Guidance on PV roofs and partner with Southern Electric to pioneer the first grid-connection agreement developed by an energy company in Britain. Today you can get a roof with 4Kwp of PV for your home for less than £5000.


The 1 – 1 million solar roof celebration, sponsored by Oxford’s OPUS Energy, was held in the garden of the Oxford Ecohouse and was joined by many of UK’s great solar pioneers who each had their own story to tell of the path they had taken in working for a cleaner energy future for all. Also there were people with a myriad of pioneering solar projects on local schools, village halls and businesses to as well as community energy schemes and solar co-operatives and local energy companies.


A lot of people told me in 1995 that solar would never work here – but look at Britain now – nearly a million solar roofs out of 25 million homes, an annual doubling of installed solar capacity and even the politicians now recognise that the best way to take people out of fuel poverty is to put the means of generating energy on their own roofs.


The rate and scale of the expansion of the solar markets has been phenomenal, but as with all renewables that harvest clean free energy from the sun and air they are only intermittently available. Therefore the ability to store them and use them when needed represents the next great step towards a 100% renewable energy lifestyle and society. The next steps project for the Oxford Ecohouse is really exciting.


We always understood the need for energy storage in homes so we designed the Ecohouse with huge amounts of thermal mass, a 300 litre hot water tank set within the well-insulated envelope to keep the home at a stable warm temperature in summer and cool in summer and store heat from the sun in water for use overnight. Until now the big challenge has been to store the solar energy generated during the day by the PV cells, to shift it into being usable at night when there is no light.


The 2020s solar home dream must be to have homes that rely almost 100% on the energy they can harvest from their own sites. The Oxford Ecohouse already has highly efficient AEG white goods and these are manually activated, typically when it is sunniest. The next major area to tackle is that of the light fittings. The house now has low energy lights and in order to make sure that the energy required at night is minimal the house will be re-fitted with LEDs, using the Philips brand that was the original choice for the Ecohouse’s low energy lights 20 years ago. The ultimate step is to revisit the design and management of the gas boiler backup systems, controls and displays.


But first we will meet the challenge of storing electricity with the exciting new Sunny Boy 3600 / 5000 Smart Energy, combining the PV inverter with battery storage. It will fit easily into the existing electrical system with an effective capacity of 2 kWh that can not only offset fossil fuel generated energy consumption during the day but also makes it possible to use our own solar energy around the clock. Just as the Ecohouse 20 years ago used the first generation SMA inverter for its original system this is the first SMA wall-mountable, series-produced PV inverter to feature an integrated lithium-ion battery and is a world leading product that provides the opportunity for our dream of living in an energy independent house to come true. The integrated Webconnect function will provide worldwide access to our daily consumption and yield data via Sunny Portal so everyone can see how far we have gone in becoming a genuinely zero energy home.


On 29th June 2015 the Department of Energy and Climate Change told me before the 1 – 1 million solar roof party that, on behalf of Amber Rudd, “as you may know the government’s position remains that we are committed to seeing solar PV, including wide-scale deployment across community homes and rooftops”. DECC is now proposing to cut the feed-in tariff rates for solar PV installations by as much as 87% (Plans for 87% solar subsidy cut ‘could kill the industry’, 28 August). Big Energy and DECC have realised that if everyone generates their own electricity and heats their water with solar systems, there will be no markets for nuclear electricity and fracked gas. No wonder they are determined to kill off the solar industry.


But solar power is citizen power – so if you do not already have a solar roof and you do not want a toxic nuclear future or degraded fracked landscapes and lives – keep building those solar roofs and improving the energy eco-system of your own homes, because each single one of those solar roofs represents a footstep towards a cleaner, safer, freer energy future for all of us.


Sue Roaf



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