Solar panels on new builds – should we be thinking about it?
With technology continuing to develop, it’s becoming easier for everyone to make a positive impact on our environment – however large or small. And as the UK strides towards its goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, lots of different solutions are being explored by businesses, governments and individuals.
In June 2022, new rules came into effect which saw an uplift in energy efficiency standards for new building projects. This change means that new homes are now expected to reduce CO2 emissions by around 30%, with the integration of energy-saving measures a common feature in these developments. Due to its accessibility and affordability, it’s thought solar power will have an important part to play in helping homes to meet these new standards.
Despite calls for solar panels to be installed on all new homes across the UK, there remains some reluctance from the government and businesses to adopt this approach. This is, in part, because not all homes are necessarily compatible with solar panel systems, and alternative green solutions may be better suited and more efficient. Instead, they have opted to give developers more flexibility and freedom around how they decide to meet the new energy efficiency standards.
But should we be thinking more carefully about incorporating solar technology into new residential buildings? In this post, we consider some of the potential implications of mandating the installation of solar panels on all new homes, and discuss how we can overcome some of the long-standing barriers to solar use becoming more widespread.
Benefits of solar panels for developers
Developers and housing associations stand to benefit in a variety of ways from choosing to install solar panels in new developments.
Opportunity to improve BREEAM score
Sustainable construction is seen as a key part of building a greener future for our planet, and BREEAM standards are an important way of measuring the impact companies in the industry are having.
Improving your BREEAM score not only enhances company reputation and marketability, but it can also bring about a reduction in operational costs. Energy is one of the main criteria in the rating system, so integrating carbon-free technologies that can help residents to use more green energy will stand companies in good stead to improve their score.
Eco-friendly features are more appealing to buyers
Modern consumers continue to demonstrate a clear preference for eco-friendly products over more harmful, traditional alternatives. When it comes to home buying, making these small, eco-conscious inclusions could be a key determining factor in the decision making process, and could even boost the value of properties.
There are a range of things construction companies can do to enhance the saleability of new builds with a focus on sustainable features, but installing solar panels is one of the most effective and accessible options.
Making sustainable additions in the homes being built today helps to futureproof companies and their developments from legislation changes further down the line. It’s likely that, as efforts ramp up to meet our long-term target of net zero emissions by 2050, the government will introduce stricter measures to help reduce our collective carbon footprint.
Adopting new building methods that are kinder to the planet now will see construction companies push ahead of the curve and set the blueprint for others to follow – while also appealing to consumers.
Benefits of solar panels for homeowners
Having pre-installed solar panel systems on new homes would also be beneficial to homeowners and residents. Here are three key reasons why.
Homeowners can profit from the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)
Since January 2020, the SEG has given homeowners who generate their own green electricity the opportunity to sell back excess power to the grid. Not only does this provide an incentive for small-scale energy producers to commit to solar in the first place, but it also helps to boost the proportion of green electricity in the national energy mix, further benefiting the planet.
There are a number of different SEG licensees who offer varying tariffs to renewable energy-producing homeowners. Once your system is in place, be sure to shop around to find the best rate for you, to maximise the potential return on your investment.
Lower utility bills
In recent years, households across the country have been hit hard by the rising cost of electricity. While you will have to factor in the initial cost, using solar energy to power your home can save you money on household energy bills in the long run.
Depending on the size of your property and the amount of electricity you use, it is possible to exclusively power your home with solar energy. For further savings, consider using a battery alongside your panels in order to continue using solar power in the hours when electricity isn’t being generated.
Promoting sustainable living
Recent government statistics show that the residential sector is accountable for 17% of all CO2 emissions produced in the UK, highlighting just how big of an impact our homes are having on the environment. Fortunately, it’s becoming easier than ever for homeowners to make eco-conscious decisions to protect the future of the planet.
Adopting other environmentally friendly habits around the home on top of using a solar system can help you to get more from your setup. For instance, reducing our consumption can lower reliance on topping up our energy supply with fossil fuels, while running an electric vehicle through solar-powered charging will have further positive impacts on the planet.
Start your journey to a greener future today
Why aren’t solar panels installed on all new builds?
With so many clear advantages to be had, you may be left wondering why solar panels aren’t currently being installed as standard on every new home. There are several potential challenges that have to be considered, but it’s important to remember that there are often ways around these issues. Weighing up both sides will allow homeowners and developers to make a more informed decision about whether or not solar is right for them.
Challenge #1 – cost
First of all, integrating a PV array into a property comes at an additional cost. While the specific amount will vary between locations, installing a 10-panel solar system costs on average £4,800 in the UK. There are concerns that this cost could be passed onto the consumer when solar is integrated into new build properties. As a result, this would create another barrier to getting on the property ladder for first-time homeowners, and will be an especially prominent issue for those who remain reluctant to embrace the technology.
Many years ago, solar technology was one of the most expensive sources of electricity, meaning it wasn’t a viable option for mainstream consumption. Today, as market forces continue to drive down the price, setting up and running a solar system for residential use is becoming more affordable than ever.
In addition, the UK Government is making a concerted effort to support this residential eco drive, and there is now a range of funding available to homeowners and developers considering switching to solar. For example, £4 billion has been made available through the ECO4 scheme with the intention of lowering the eligibility benchmark for accessing the grants to low income households, making the technology more accessible to a wider range of people.
Challenge #2 – suitability
Some homes are naturally a better fit for solar energy production than others. Unfortunately, this makes the initial investment less valuable at properties that aren’t so suited to solar, as the panels will be less efficient and the payback period will be extended. Some of the factors that affect a building’s compatibility with solar generation include its orientation, condition and the amount of shade cover it gets.
Just because a home isn’t perfectly suited to solar doesn’t mean the technology should be disregarded entirely. While south-facing properties will be able to produce solar electricity most efficiently, west and east-facing homes also offer good conditions for harnessing the sun’s energy.
What’s more, one of the main requirements for installing a solar system is having a roof that’s in good condition. With new builds, this issue is less relevant, as providing the right materials and building techniques have been used, the roof should be structurally sound and able to withstand the added weight of solar panels. Installation costs are also reduced as solar panels can be installed at the same time roofing is installed and scaffolding is already erected.
Challenge #3 – weather conditions
For solar panels to function properly, they rely on one pivotal resource – the sun. In countries or regions where sunlight is at a premium, people may decide against using solar to power their homes due to concerns about how effective a system will be in overcast conditions. If panels are less efficient and produce less energy, not only will homes be more reliant on paying for electricity from the grid, but it will be longer before they see a return on their investment.
It’s something of a myth that solar panels don’t work when the sun isn’t shining. While it’s true that direct sunlight will create the best conditions for solar energy generation, and PV cells will be ineffective in complete darkness, they can still produce energy on overcast days due to indirect sunlight.
What’s more, it’s often thought that higher temperatures result in more energy being produced, but this isn’t the case. In fact, in extreme temperatures, the efficiency of PV cells will be negatively affected, resulting in less electricity being generated for your home. So while sunny, pleasant weather provides the optimal conditions for solar panels to work at their most efficient, solar technology may be appropriate in more areas than people initially thought.
For instance, Scotland is an excellent example of somewhere that’s embraced solar power in spite of some meteorological obstacles. Across the country, we’ve seen a rapid rise in the number of homes incorporating solar technology. In fact, between 2020-21 there was a 71% increase in the number of properties with solar panels installed, highlighting just how popular the technology is.
Forecasting the future of solar
Solar power is an important tool for homeowners looking to lead more sustainable lives, but there is so much more potential to this constantly evolving technology. As advancements allow for greater efficiency and reduced operating costs, it will continue to play a key role in the future.
It’s not just homeowners who are catching on to the potential benefits, either – Members of Parliament have also made their stance clear. According to a recent YouGov survey, 69% of MPs said they would be in favour of mandating solar panels on new builds. This is a positive indication that future policies could shape a more solar-centric future for the UK’s energy mix.
As we’ve explored, keeping solar at the forefront of housing developments will have long-term benefits for both developers and homeowners across the country. And as the government continues to improve support packages and funding for individuals looking to switch to solar, it’s likely the technology will continue to become even more accessible for the homes of tomorrow. If you’re thinking about investing in your own solar-powered future, get in touch with us today.