The UK Government’s most recent uptake figures published in April 2013 showed that 362,000 homes have installed solar panels in the UK since April 2010; approximately one roof in every 70 or around 7% of households. However, the uptake differs across the country, with London authorities making up 23 of the 25 ranked bottom of the league table of all 380 local authorities in the UK.
WSP’s analysis of the uptake showed that, despite concerns that solar panels would be the domain of the affluent only, due to high upfront costs, location is actually a far stronger factor. Affluence appears to be a weak factor only in determining installation rates.
Dumfries and Galloway, parts of Herefordshire and parts of Devon showed above average panel installation (one out of 40 roofs) but have some of the lowest per capita income. The Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland have similar levels of installation despite sunshine levels which are far below those in Southern England.
The strongest indicator for panel installation was, in fact, rural versus urban living. Installation rates in London, the Welsh Valleys and in the West Midlands lag far behind more rural areas in mid Wales and Cornwall and this was consistent across the UK.
“While we might think that cities should be happy hunting grounds for solar sales, in reality houses in towns are smaller, their roofs are more likely to be obscured and there’s also less owner occupation,” said WSP director David Symons. “Flats and apartments also have more than one household, but only one roof. In contrast, houses in the country tend to be larger and have more space, so it’s more economical to put a panel on a roof in the country than in the city. What seems clear is that – when combined with biomass, anaerobic digestion facilities and wind – there’s an increasing trend for the countryside to be the renewable power station of the city.”
Solar panels have been heralded as a success story for green energy in the UK but the reality is that even in the most popular areas for installations, barely 7% of households have panels installed and in the lowest installation areas, such as Westminster, that figure drops to almost none.
“If solar panels are going to be one of our green energies of the future our analysis shows there’s a lot more work to do,” added Symons. “Poorer performer housing associations have to be highlighted, there needs to be more trust in energy companies and installers and, ultimately, panels have to become more efficient and cheaper.”