John Stevenson is Chairman of the Northern Research Group, and is MP for Carlisle.
What if there was a way we could increase our renewable energy supply, reduce residential energy bills, and boost our domestic solar panel industry – and, by the way, do it all without cost to the Treasury?
The energy crisis has brought home the importance of a secure supply of energy. While the Government is taking action on the cost of bills and giving support to families and businesses this winter, we simply cannot be complacent about future challenges.
Now is the time for policies that act swiftly to address current issues, but also ensure our long-term ambitions are realised. And so we must therefore be able to merge the short-term need for a secure energy supply, with the longer-term goal of a net-zero economy by 2050.
Nuclear, and other more traditional sources of energy, will need further investment and support. But any future energy policy must also include renewable energy – and one source in which I have a particular interest is solar.
In 2019, zero-carbon electricity production overtook fossil fuels in the UK for the first time, and solar was a key part of this.
Such positive advancements absolutely can be built upon as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is currently going through the Committee Stages in Parliament: I am laying an amendment to the Bill that would require all new residential properties built after April 1 2025 to have solar panels built in as part of their construction.
The benefits of this amendment, I think, are substantial.
There would immediately be a large solar panel market as we build more than 150,000 new homes every year. If many of the solar panels used in the UK are currently imported, the huge increase in demand for solar panels in the UK would ensure that the British panel industry would mushroom, allowing a new solar panel manufacturing industry to develop, creating jobs and lowering the price of panels as each company looks to make their product better value.
With this guaranteed market (a substantial one at that) there would be an incentive for industry to innovate by developing and improving solar panels. This would lead to more efficient versions, which would in turn lead to an increase in the amount of electricity generated.
I also believe that the market incentive would lead to more aesthetically pleasing solar panels; indeed, I suspect in the long run, the industry would be to create solar panels that seamlessly blend into the properties being constructed.
For individual households, it would clearly lead to lower energy bills. But also from the country’s perspective, it would reduce the amount of extra electricity needed to supply other houses. If we are truly serious about our ambitions to have a net zero economy by 2050, it is quite clear that policies such as this are going to be essential.
The long-term benefits of cleaner energy and the potential for a new manufacturing industry are also complemented by benefits in energy price stability. Had we had this policy in place five years ago, just think of the number of households who would have benefitted with regard to their energy bills today.
Of course, this won’t be an immediate solution to our problems. But if we start ensuring that all new houses have solar panels as of today, within a few years we will be in a much better position than otherwise.
And the final positive of the policy? It would not cost anything to the taxpayer. Yes, there would be a small increase in terms of the house-building costs, but I do not believe that these would be disproportionate.
This amendment is a very conservative way of ensuring that we as an economy we are more energy independent; it does not cost anything to the taxpayer; and in the medium- and long-term, homeowners will reap the rewards. It is an example of policy ensuring our short and long-term goals align to make the progress on hitting our net-zero targets.
I have already received good support from my fellow backbench MPs – and I will seek support from all sides on the House of Commons to try and ensure that this sensible policy becomes law and helps in our ambitions to be a net-zero economy.
It is time that we start thinking originally about our energy policies, ensuring our long-term goals are incorporated into our short-term stance on energy. This amendment is a step in the right direction to a more renewable and energy independent economy, and, just as importantly, a more energy independent country.