Friday, 19 March 2010

Would You Like To Rent My Roof?

A small (un)civil war has broken out between some real heavyweights in the environmental world.

It all started when the UK government announced it's Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs (also called the Clean Energy Cashback) which will mean that home owners who install solar electric systems on their houses will be able to sell the electricity generated at a premium price.  More details here

This prompted an article from George Monbiot in the Guardian about it being a solar panel rip-off that will merely see public funds that could be used to reduce fuel poverty instead siphoned off to the better-off.

This, in turn, prompted a response from Jeremy Leggett, and now Jonathon Porritt has also weighed in.

It is easy to see where Monbiot is coming from, solar electricity panels are not cheap and you need to have a reasonable amount of disposable income to be able to install them.  Without the initial feed money you are a non-starter.  On the other hand, any incentive that encourages the use of renewables (unless it involves turning vast amounts of rainforest into jatropha plantations) should be encouraged.

At a conference in Bristol on Thursday (18th March), another environmental heavyweight, Alastair Sawday, suggested a possible solution; renting out your roofspace to an entrepreneural solar energy company that will install the solar panels for you.

The idea is simple; the solar energy company could contract with individual houseowners to install solar panels, with the company providing the capital investment in return for a share in the revenues earned from the renewable electricity sold back to the grid at a premium.

The beauty of this, of course, is that, as has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the poorer a neighbourhood the lower the levels of electricity usage tend to be.  Solar panels, on the other hand, generate the same level of electricity regardless of how poor the owners of the roof they are installed upon happen to be - sunlight is happy to be distributed across all classes of roof without a trace of snobbery.  Common-sense would therefore imply that installation of solar panels by our solar electricity company will be most profitable if they are installed in areas where the electricity usage is already relatively low (i.e poorer areas) because this will mean a greater proportion of renewable electricity being available for selling back to the grid and thus a greater return on their capital investment.

In fact, it may even turn out to be profitable for the solar electricity company to retrofit other energy efficiency measures, such as cavity-wall insulation, additonal loft insulation and so on to maximise the amount of renewable energy being sold back to the grid.  The home-owners of course, will see a reduction in their household electricity bills.  There may well need to be some form of mutually agreed mechanism to counter the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate, but otherwise, for once, the poor will be the customer of choice rather than the wealthy.

Now, who would like to rent my roof-space?


  1. Hi Tony

    Interesting stiff. But:

    1. Do the rich have disproportionately more roofspace ?

    2. Could you be ushering in some dystopian future where the poor must rent their access to sunlight to corporations and have their roofs and perhaps back yards covered in cheap panels and cables ?


  2. Harry,
    this is an example of the slippery slope fallacy.
    Note the "rent" word. This means that poorer people will receive payment for, well, renting out their roof. As it is, a roof is a desert, good only for keeping the rain off. With PV, it still keeps the rain off, but the occupant is also better off financially.

  3. Wow! Who would have thought residential houses could have the chance to be an energy supplier. I have not yet seen a solar roof house here in Virginia, yet each of us our so concerned in terms of roof maintenance. We have siding, (Sterling, where I live) on our roof. This allows us to cut our expenses in terms of roof painting.

  4. How much of an argument this is now I'm not so sure, what with the reduction in the FiTs. If you look back at why the scheme was set up, you could argue that it is being somewhat used wrongly with investors banking on the ROI secured by the FiT schemes. Then again you may argue that solar panel production regardless of who or where it is for is surely a good thing for the economy and for our future energy consumption needs.