Amendment 478

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (14th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 22 May 2023.

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Baroness Hayman:

Moved by Baroness Hayman

478: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—“Solar panel requirements for new homes and buildingsThe Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning on the day this Act is passed, exercise the power under section 1 of the Building Act 1984 (power to make building regulations) to make building regulations, including appropriate exemptions, for the purpose of requiring that all new homes and buildings built in England on or after 1 April 2025 must have solar panels installed.”Member's explanatory statementThis new Clause would require new homes and buildings in England from 1 April 2025 to have solar panels.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, since it is a long time since I last contributed in this Committee, I start by declaring my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. Amendment 478 has cross-party support, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who signed it. Alongside Amendment 504GJE, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the amendment recognises the enormous potential of maximising the UK’s solar capacity, not only in terms of energy production but also in terms of that levelling-up agenda to which we have devoted so many hours in Committee.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to make building regulations requiring all new homes and buildings in England to be built with solar panels from 1 April 2025. It is a simple but sensible and important amendment, which recognises the need for flexibility for different types of building—not every one will be suitable—and gives appropriate exemptions. It could be aligned with the introduction of the future homes standard in 2025. As I said, rooftop solar on buildings can bring many benefits, including reducing bills, enhancing energy security, bringing jobs and skills across the whole country and decarbonising our homes.

I recognise that the Government have made welcome progress on solar since I first tabled this amendment through the commitments they made in their recent Powering Up Britain package, which adopted many of the Skidmore review recommendations. In their new energy security plan, the Government recognise the importance of solar deployment—both rooftop and ground—in decarbonising the power sector. But, as so often with government strategy in these areas of net zero and the environment, the Government use more nouns and more adjectives than verbs. This amendment tries to put some action immediately into the area of solar power. For a true rooftop revolution, much more action is needed.

Analysis by the trade body Solar Energy UK found that further efforts than those outlined in the Powering Up Britain package will be needed to secure the Government’s ambition of 70 gigawatts of solar by 2035. The recent BEIS Committee report also called for more action, recommending that the UK

“ramp up the pace at which new solar capacity is deployed”.

Regulating for rooftop solar on all new buildings is a specific, simple, straightforward action which the Government could take now. As highlighted in the Skidmore Mission Zero report, there is currently no target to make rooftop solar a standard for buildings across the UK.

I hope we have learned some of the lessons of the past when we allowed buildings to be constructed which we knew at the time would not meet the energy needs of the future. In fact, sometimes we got the regulations right once and then reneged on them and went backwards. We have ended up with buildings that are inappropriate and have to be retrofitted, which is more expensive and less effective. This is a real opportunity not to make that mistake again.

Solar for all new homes and buildings is backed by the public, by industry and by the experts. It makes financial sense and, as I say, it is much cheaper than retrofitting in years to come. Other countries have understood this and are making provision for rooftop solar on commercial and residential properties. In March, the EU agreed revisions to the energy performance of buildings directive, which will require all member states to ensure that new buildings are equipped with solar technologies where technically suitable and economically feasible—exactly what I am trying to achieve in this amendment.

The recent letter to the Government from the Environmental Audit Committee urged them to urgently address key barriers to solar deployment across the planning process, which is another debate we have had on the Bill. The committee highlighted evidence of a tendency among developers to just fit the minimum that they need, and the fact that housebuilders will build to the regulations—so we need to change the regulations. It recommended that

“the Future Homes Standard incorporate installation of solar PV … as a minimum requirement for newly constructed housing”.

That is precisely what my amendment is asking for, and it would support the government policy and ambition to increase from 14.5 gigawatts of solar now to 70 gigawatts. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I very much support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. My amendment is directed at commercial premises. When I stand on the top of the Downs above Eastbourne and look down, I see several hundred acres of white commercial roofs and associated car parks, and there is, I think, one building in that lot which has solar panels on. The reasons for this are entirely structural; they are to do with the difficulties of negotiating between the people using the building, the people who own it and the people who want to handle the electricity that is generated.

I supported the carrot in the Energy Bill—the local energy proposals—to try to get things going and give people a decent price for the energy they are generating. However, we cannot leave commercial spaces untouched if we are to take solar seriously. It is ridiculous to cover farmland with solar panels when industrial roofs and car parks are going uncovered. A carrot having been proposed in the Energy Bill, this is my proposal for a stick. This is something to enable local authorities to get things moving, and to give local landlords and building occupiers a real incentive to come on board a scheme.

After all, these premises are the places where electricity is used in the middle of a sunny day, so they ought to have solar panels to supply directly the energy they need for freezers, charging visiting cars or whatever else. They are the big energy users in the middle of the day, and they ought to have solar panels, and we ought to be pushing that.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should declare my interest as a director of Peers for the Planet. I shall address the two amendments in my name. I strongly support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but, in the interests of time, I shall limit my remarks on them.

Residential and commercial buildings together contribute about 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and figures from the Climate Change Committee tell us that the UK has more than 2.5 million homes and another 1.9 million other buildings—offices, hospitals, shops, et cetera. The majority of those are heated by gas boilers, which also provide hot water, and the bulk of the rest use petroleum.

The Climate Change Committee also tells us that we cannot reach net zero if we continue to use gas for heat, so changing how we heat our homes and buildings is essential to reach net zero. Ending our reliance on gas can also help to reduce the cost of living through lower energy bills—something that should give us all pause for thought during debates on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, and I know it has already been mentioned by several speakers. When we add to that the estimated quarter of a million extra jobs that will be needed, relevance to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill just increases.

The Government should be given credit for introducing the future homes standard, which aims to ensure that new homes built before 2025 will produce 75% to 80% less carbon emissions than homes built under the current building regulations. The heat and buildings strategy states that from 2025 gas boilers will be banned from all new buildings and from 2035 boilers will start to be phased out from existing buildings. As far as we know, that is still the Government’s plan.

The question then is: what will replace gas boilers? My Amendments 504GJK and 504GJL are asking the Government to apply a bit of scientific rigour to answer that question and to be guided by objective evidence as we take these momentous decisions on major changes to our infrastructure that will be with us for the next several generations.

The facts are that there are plans for a hydrogen village pilot. There has already been a heat pump pilot, albeit nearly all air source, which is different and has been shown to be 40% less energy efficient than ground source heat pumps. There have also been various central plant district heating demonstrator projects. That is all excellent, and to be applauded, but there is no plan to pilot networked ground source heat pumps, and that is a gaping gap. A demonstrator pilot is sorely needed, because although networked heat pumps have plenty in common with individual heat pumps and with district heating, and often get lumped in with one or the other, the reality is that networked heat pumps is a very different approach and need to be assessed and evaluated on its own merits.

What is it? A ground source heat pump—which I shall refer to as a GSHP—network works by installing shared network pipework containing water for multiple homes to connect to, as opposed to each home needing the space for its individual ground source heat pump. The under-street network absorbs heat from the ground at a near constant year-round 10 degrees centigrade, and applies it to each home’s heat pump, where it is condensed and increased to the heat required for space heating and hot water. It is worth noting here that in most homes, the heat pump unit will be smaller than a gas boiler.

In a GSHP network, the infrastructure is owned and paid for by a third party, with each home paying an annual fixed network fee. The best way to think about a GSHP network is that the infrastructure reflects the gas grids we currently have, which are owned by utilities, and we would in the same way pay to connect to a heat network. Ground source heat pump networks have the potential to reach parts that other heating solutions cannot.

It is claimed that networked ground source heat pumps provide the best clean heat solutions for many properties for which other solutions are not suitable. Let me just go through some of the other solutions, which are all perfectly relevant and work in the situation to which they are suited. For example, many properties, such as tower blocks or closely packed terraced houses, are not suited to individual air source heat pumps as they lack the space and distance from neighbouring properties. Additionally, as air source heat pumps use around 40% more energy than ground source heat pumps, relying exclusively on the former will place a much greater strain on the power grid and require more electricity generation capacity.

I will move straight on to hydrogen, which provides a heating solution for only a small proportion of homes due to the prohibitively high costs of producing and transporting it. There is also the safety consideration. Hydrogen is the lightest element of the periodic table and is notoriously hard to contain; it is also highly combustible, of course.

Ground source heat pump networks have the potential to reach parts that other heating solutions cannot. We need to evaluate them thoroughly and support them if they can be useful in weaning us off fossil gas. I also want to mention their use in social housing. Currently, around 200,000 high-rise social housing homes are heated by direct electric heating. Networked ground source heat pumps provide a pretty good, if not ideal, solution for many social housing properties. Air source heat pumps are not suitable for most tower blocks and the only other heat options are electric radiators or night storage heaters, which use three to four times more electricity than ground source heat pumps.

To finish, I want to mention a pilot called “Heat the Streets”. It is a world-first pilot project installing ground source heat pump networks on the public highway in the Cornish village of Stithians. It connects around 30 houses to the heat grid. It is delivering results in terms of providing proof of concepts; understanding how people take to it and whether they like it; and identifying the challenges in delivering it on a larger scale. It is proving popular with residents; a positive write-up by the BBC’s Roger Harrabin appears in the FT. It will be critical to follow up on the pilot project in Stithians and build on the lessons learned with a larger-scale pilot project, which is what my amendments are asking for. I look forward to receiving a positive response from the Minister.

Amendment 478 is on rooftop solar. I look forward to the new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Rooftop Revolution: Unlocking the Potential of Rooftop Solar in an Energy, Climate and Cost-of-Living Crisis, which will be launched tomorrow. It is such a shame that we have pre-empted its launch by a day. I am sure that it will strongly reinforce the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is good to know that since this amendment was first tabled, the Government have made positive commitments on solar, including taking forward the recommendations in the Skidmore review calling for a gear shift in delivery to achieve renewables targets, including the solar and onshore wind revolution. That is all well and good, but more must be done to achieve the Government’s “70 gigawatts by 2035” ambition. It is vital that the new solar taskforce take forward industry recommendations at the pace and scale needed.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 11:30, 22 May 2023

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. She has made a powerful case for ground source heat network trials, so I will not pursue that, except to note that the case is clearly much more overwhelming than the weak to non-existent case for the hydrogen trial the Government seem to want to pursue.

I will speak to Amendment 478, which has full cross-party and non-party support, and which the Green Party would have attached its name to had there been space. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, with his Amendment 504GJE, is on to an important and crucial point. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, I was going to refer noble Lords to the CPRE report, which is due out in about nine hours’ time, so we are pre-empting that a little. I also reference something that shows where we could have been—the Primrose Hill solar village in Huddersfield, which was built nearly two decades ago. Driven by pioneering local Green councillor Andrew Cooper, 79 affordable homes were built there on a brownfield site. For two decades the people there have been benefiting from the kind of housing we should have been building everywhere in the country, all of the time. That it is in a very deprived area of Huddersfield, classic levelling-up territory, demonstrates how much people have suffered because of the policy failures of the past two decades.

Rather than repeating what other people have said, I want to make a few additional points. The number of households that are retrofitting solar panels has reached its highest level in more than seven years. More than 50,000 installed them between January and March, which shows how much people want solar panels. They are going for it, but through the much more expensive, difficult and complicated method of retrofitting, rather than buying a new home that already has them on the roof, which is what Amendment 478 would provide for.

I will cross-reference certain points rather than go through everything. My honourable friend in the other place, Caroline Lucas, had a Westminster Hall debate on 22 March on rooftop solar for homes. The point was made that about two-thirds of what is currently fitted is ground mounted. It is nonsensical that we are using up ground for that. Earlier today, your Lordship’s House debated the land use strategy and the establishment of a land use commission. Surely, such as commission would be saying that there are so many things we could be doing with that land that we should not be using it for that until every roof—certainly every new roof—has solar panels fitted to it.

I want to pick up on some points that might be made in opposition to this amendment, perhaps pre-empting the Minister. Yes, it could add cost to a new property, but there would also be an estimated saving of between £974 and £1,150 per year per home. Taking into account the cost-of-living crisis, the cost would be rapidly recovered by the people living in these homes.

We want to talk about having affordable housing, and part of affordability is being able to afford to run the home on a year-to-year basis into the future. Plus, we are in a climate emergency, the world is not meeting its carbon targets, and this is one obvious way that Britain should be making a further contribution.

In the debate in the other place, it was suggested that there are other ways of doing this, and that maybe solar panels are not the answer. Of course, this amendment refers to the appropriate housing; it is not saying every single house but, more than that, solar panels do not preclude also having ground source or air source heat pumps. In fact, the combination of those two things is absolutely valuable.

There has been talk of global supply challenges, but the right political will would ensure that it is possible to source these materials outside China, where the bulk of the current issues—particularly human rights—regarding solar panels lie. There is also the question of sourcing silicon, but there are alternatives to that and breakthroughs are being made all the time. It has been suggested this may stifle innovation somehow. This is not just about delivering the basic fabric of a building that should be there; it does not mean that we cannot do many additional things as well, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, has so clearly suggested.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this group of amendments and her amendment in particular. We strongly support amendments that aim to increase renewable energy sources. This is a levelling-up Bill. One of the missions laid out in the White Paper is to increase well-being. When we think about the cost of energy at the moment, surely having well-heated homes has to be a measure of well-being in society. By supporting these amendments, we can make steps towards meeting that mission. As the noble Baroness said in the introduction to her amendment, it is simple but sensible. We completely agree.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is again really important. There is such huge potential for solar panels on commercial buildings that we completely miss. The thing that sprung to mind when I read his amendment was those colossal warehouses that can be seen along the motorways when driving along. They are in completely open space, and surely there is huge potential for putting solar panels on their roofs.

We know that, by 2050, the United Kingdom has a target to cut emissions of CO2 by 80%, but we also know that the Government are way off achieving that target. Again, as the noble Baroness said, it is really good that the Government are beginning to realise the importance and potential of solar power, following on from the Skidmore review, but as she also said, what we need is action—to make the potential of solar power a reality. If new-build homes had solar panels and the ability to store energy in batteries—which is, of course, something that we have to develop further—as a country we would clearly benefit from a fairly significant reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide. To me, it seems completely obvious: the more energy we harness from the sun, the less we need to get from fossil fuels.

Solar panels mean that, for certain parts of the year, households can enjoy being completely self-powered. This would of course bring a significant reduction to their energy bills, helping to meet that mission of well-being—yet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, there is no target for this yet. If you are going genuinely to deliver and make a difference, you need to set targets.

We have also heard that it is vastly cheaper to install solar panels on a new property than it is to fit them retrospectively. They are far more expensive to fit retrospectively. Having mandatory requirements for solar panels on new homes means that installation costs are lower and that home owners can start saving money as soon as they move into their new home.

I will also make a few comments on the interesting amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on the ground source heat network. Unlike gas and oil boilers, ground source heat pumps can heat a home without emitting any carbon into the atmosphere. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, said, we cannot meet our net-zero targets unless we tackle how we heat our homes. How we heat our homes is quite a challenge.

We know that you can have solar panels for hot water, as we have. We have thermal panels on our roof and it has made a huge difference to the amount of oil we use. Living in the middle of rural Cumbria, we have an oil boiler and we have cut back hugely. Of course, we need to use the oil boiler to heat during the winter, as others who live off the gas grid use their gas boilers. We really need to think about how we can invest in renewable alternatives to our gas and oil boilers for heating. While ground source heat pumps need electricity to operate, which is a very expensive energy resource, they use it incredibly efficiently.

In conclusion, it is important that the Government start to look at how renewable energy can be driven forward, whether through solar panels or alternatives to gas and oil boilers. If there is one thing we know, it is that we cannot carry on heating our homes with fossil fuels for ever, not only because it has a negative impact on the environment but because it simply is not sustainable. We support these amendments because we really need to be making more progress.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 11:45, 22 May 2023

My Lords, Amendment 478 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require new homes and buildings in England to have solar panels as of April 2025. I acknowledge straight away that the spirit of this amendment is unimpeachable. Renewable energy, such as that generated from solar panels, is a key part of our strategy to get to net zero.

We should be aiming to see new homes and buildings built in a way that contributes to the net-zero agenda. The difference between the Government and the noble Baroness, in working towards that aim, is one of approach. I am sure she will recall that the Government introduced an uplift in energy-efficiency standards, which came into force in June 2022. The purpose of the uplift is to deliver a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. Critically, though, it also provides a stepping stone to the future homes and buildings standards, which we are aiming to legislate for next year and which would come into force in 2025.

It is important to understand that our approach to achieving higher energy-efficiency standards has remained consistent—that is to say technology neutral—to provide developers with the flexibility to innovate and choose the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for their sites. Some buildings may not be suitable for solar panels—for instance, homes that are heavily shaded due to nearby buildings or trees, or where the roof size or shape does not lend itself to solar panels. We fully expect, however, that to comply with the uplift, most developers will choose to install solar panels on new homes and buildings or use other low-carbon technology such as a heat pump. Introducing an amendment to mandate solar panels would therefore be largely redundant. I hope that is helpful in explaining why we do not think that this amendment is the right way to go.

I turn to Amendment 504GJE in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. This looks to allow local planning authorities to request the installation of solar panels on roofs of commercial buildings and adjoining spaces in a designated area. I am sure that we can agree that decarbonising our energy supply is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. I am not, however, convinced that giving local planning authorities powers effectively to require commercial property landowners and tenants to fit solar panels to their existing buildings and facilities is the best way to achieve this. Not all commercial landowners or tenants will be in the position to take action.

Instead, we should focus on empowering those who have the means to do so by ensuring that planning and building regulations are not a barrier. That is why we have policies in the National Planning Policy Framework, as well as permitted development rights and building standards, that support the rollout of renewable energy, including installing solar panels. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that local planning authorities should have a positive strategy in place to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources, such as solar panels. The NPPF is also clear that when determining planning applications for renewable and low carbon development, local planning authorities should approve the application if its impacts are, or can be made, acceptable. This can include the installation of solar panels.

To help facilitate the take-up of renewable energy, permitted development rights allow for the installation of rooftop solar and stand-alone ground-mounted solar in the grounds of domestic and non-domestic buildings. The Government have recently consulted on changes to the permitted development rights for solar equipment to support the solar energy objectives set out in the British energy security strategy. The consultation included proposals to amend the existing permitted development right for the installation of rooftop solar on commercial buildings and introduce a new permitted development right for solar canopies on non-domestic car parks, such as supermarkets and retail parks. The department is now considering the responses and further details will be announced in due course.

It is also worth my reverting to the point I made in response to Amendment 478. The energy efficiency changes to the building regulations that the Government recently implemented, and which came into force in June 2022, will mean that to comply with these new standards many, if not most, developers will choose to install solar panels on new commercial buildings. So, again, while I have some overall sympathy with my noble friend in bringing forward his amendment, given all that I have laid out I hope he will understand why the Government do not feel able to support it.

I listened with much interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Her Amendment 504GJK proposes to create a new pilot scheme to retrofit an existing town, powered by renewable energy and heated by a ground source heat network. I am happy to bring the Committee up to date on where we are with this area of policy more generally.

The Government’s general approach to the transition to clean heat is to follow natural replacement cycles, working with the grain of markets and consumer behaviour to minimise costs and disruption and avoid early appliance scrappage. On heat network zoning specifically, the Energy White Paper, heat and buildings strategy and net zero strategy committed us to introduce heat network zoning in England by 2025. It is a key policy solution to help reach the scale of expansion of heat networks required to meet net zero.

The zoning policy will be delivered via powers in the Energy Bill to make regulations, including in relation to the development of a nationwide methodology for identifying and designating areas as heat network zones. The objective of the methodology will be to determine where heat networks are lower cost than low-carbon alternatives in an area. Incidentally, to answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, there is a difference between heat network zoning and converting an area to hydrogen heating. Unlike technologies such as community renewables and heat networks, using 100% hydrogen for heating is not yet an established technology.

Given the existing work under way and the Government’s general approach to the transition to clean heat, we do not believe the proposal for a pilot will deliver additional value.

Similarly, Amendment 504GJL proposes to create a pilot scheme to construct a new town powered by renewable energy and heated by a ground source heat network. I am afraid the Government do not believe that this proposal will deliver benefits additional to those already in prospect. From 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that all new homes are net-zero ready, meaning that they will become zero carbon when the electricity grid decarbonises without the need for any retrofit work. So, although the Government cannot support these last two amendments, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, will take some encouragement from the work and plans that are already under way.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

I am not convinced that the heat network zoning that the Minister refers to is the same as the ground source heat pump networked grids that I am talking about. I wonder whether it would be worth having a further conversation outside of this Committee and whether the Minister would do me the courtesy of arranging that. I think this is an important point.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I would be very happy to arrange a meeting with the noble Baroness and appropriate officials to discuss the point that she has just made.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his answer to my amendment. I take much comfort in what he said about new build and planning permission and so on, and I can see how that all might work, but I do not see any sign of proposals that will work in persuading people to retrofit, and there is huge potential there. I very much hope that in due time the Government will turn their thoughts in that direction. I would just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that if she knows someone who can build a new town in three years, will she please introduce them to the restoration and renewal team.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, it is coming up to the witching hour, so I will not extend this discussion any further. I am grateful for the considered response that the Minister, as ever, gave. I think that there are issues about planning decisions and integrating net zero into planning decisions at every level, which we have discussed at other stages and which we may well come back to. But, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 478 withdrawn.