Grant Shapps has rejected a cross-party recommendation by MPs to make solar panels compulsory on all new-build homes.
Following hearings on solar power, Philip Dunne, the chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and a Conservative MP wrote to Mr Shapps calling for photovoltaic cells to be fitted as standard.
However, Mr Shapps, the net zero and energy security secretary, rejected the proposals, saying that the Government’s energy efficiency rules were “technology-neutral” and that it was up to developers to find the “most appropriate and cost effective solutions”.
The committee had been told in its hearings by Solar Energy UK, the trade body, that while the efficiency regulations would mean that developers would likely install some panels, they would only aim for the bare minimum.
Separately, developers told i that the difficulties of getting the electrical infrastructure for solar in place meant that most housebuilders would probably opt to focus on insulation and construction materials.
The move was criticised by climate think-tanks, who warned that it would leave households reliant on expensive fossil-fuel energy and delay the UK’s transition to net zero.
“Solar power remains one of the cheapest ways to bring down soaring energy bills, meet our net zero targets and end reliance on fossil fuel imports. It’s cheap to install, and cheap to maintain. We should be making it as easy as possible for households to take advantage of this pivotal technology”, Helena Bennett, head of policy at the Green Alliance think-tank told i, adding that it was “disappointed” by the decision.
Ed Matthew, campaign director at the climate think-tank E3G called the rejection “short sighted” and said it would “keep people hooked on expensive fossil fuels for longer.”
He questioned why the ministers were not willing to put further costs on developers, citing the substantial profits they made.
Housebuilders, however, welcomed the news and rejected suggestions that they could bear the cost.
Rico Wojtulewicz, head of planning and housing at the National Federation of Builders, which represents small and medium-sized developers, said that the sector welcomed solar panels and heat pumps but warned that the infrastructure wasn’t there to support such a rapid rollout.
“People think you just stick a panel atop a building, it’s not that easy,” he toldi.
More substantial solar set-ups required heavier duty electricity infrastructure, he said, with planning delays adding several years on to the time it took to build developments.
In many areas, meanwhile, the electricity grid is not prepared to handle so many new inputs. This is a problem seen right the way up to major wind farms, with the National Grid under pressure to speed up the connecting of new projects.
“The Government seems to think that developers are cash cows that can pay for everything. I call it Persimmon syndrome, we don’t all make those profits,” said Mr Wojtulewicz, referring to one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders.
“If we want to do this, we have to put other things in place to ensure that it can be done. If you just say ‘go and do it’ you’ll get fewer homes, more expensive homes and smaller developers will go out of business,” he added.
He called for the Government to invest in the electricity grid, fix planning problems and involve energy companies in the solar rollout.
“If you have a proper strategy people will ramp it up like nobody’s business, but unless you do that it won’t happen.”