Solar Century


How local authorities can fuel the

solar revolution of the 21st century



A Green Party 2003 local elections briefing


Dr Spencer Fitz-Gibbon



With thanks to: Paul Ingram (Green Party spokesperson on local government and former deputy leader of Oxford city council), Chris Laughton (chair, Solar Trade Association), Christian Schmidt (Manchester Green Party), Solar Century (London SE1), Fuelmizas (Ribchester, Lancs), Sunseeker Ltd (Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester).






1. Introduction p 2


2. Solar energy today p 2


3. Germany's (Green-led) environment ministry leads the world p 3


4. What Green councils and Green councillors in the UK can do in the

coming year and beyond p 4


Appendix 1: Installation costs of solar roofs p 6


Appendix 2: Some interesting facts about solar energy p 6


Notes p 6


Promoted and published by Spencer Fitz-Gibbon for The Green Party,

both at 1a Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ.

1. Introduction


1.1 Solar power is an important form of non-nuclear renewable energy. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to avert the worst consequences of climate change, it will be necessary to drastically increase the amount of solar energy we use. This briefing addresses itself specifically to the use of solar collectors (panels or tubes) fitted in domestic, small business and local authority contexts, usually though not exclusively on rooftops.


1.2 Although much needs to be done by central government in terms of renewable energy, there's a great deal that local authorities can do to increase Britain's use of solar energy, and accordingly to reduce our dependency on polluting, climate-changing fossil fuels.





2. Solar energy today


2.1 Solar energy can be used either for heating water or for generating electricity.


2.2 In a solar thermal system, a panel (usually fitted to a roof, although it could be fitted to a balcony or wall or be mounted on the ground) contains an array of water pipes. The sun heats the water which is then transferred into a hot water store used in conjunction with other energy sources such as a central heating system. The solar pre-heating reduces the energy and expense involved in heating water, and can cut water heating costs by 50%. [ 1 ]  Some very simple and inexpensive systems have been produced for directly heating shower water.


2.3 Solar water heating systems can cost as little as £2,500 to install, including labour and VAT, and will pay for themselves within twenty years. [ 2 ]


2.4 Solar thermal systems can generate heat from the sun even on less bright days. A larger solar water heating system (say more than 10 square metres) could save over 30 tonnes of CO2 during its lifetime. A system this large will also assist space heating on some sunny but cold days in spring and autumn. [ 3 ]


2.5 Photovoltaic (PV) systems generate electricity from sunlight, even on less bright days. A solar photovoltaic tiled roof can save over 34 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions during its lifetime, providing electricity for 30 years or more.


2.6 A solar electric system consists of products formed from light sensitive materials (photosensitive semiconductors) which generate electricity when light falls on them. Direct sunlight or heat is not necessary, so they can work even in cloudy weather. The electricity produced can be used for anything which requires a conventional mains supply. [ 4 ]


2.7 Solar electric systems provide zero-emisions energy. [ 5 ] As well as helping reduce pollution and its environmental impacts and hidden economic costs, solar roofs reduce electricity bills and increase the value of a property. They are extremely low-maintenance and have a functional life of thirty years or more. They are highly reliable, silent in operation and visually unobtrusive. A solar electricity meter tends to increase users' awareness of electricity consumption, and thus encourage energy-efficiency in other respects. [ 6 ]

2.8 Solar roof panels could reduce energy consumption in most buildings - homes, hospitals, business premises, council buildings etc - but solar roofs (and similar stand-alone systems designed for ground use) have particular applications in remote locations, where a solar installation is often a cheaper solution than extending the grid, and provides independent and reliable power. In off-grid situations, power is stored in batteries, backup can be provided by a diesel generator, and hybrid systems combining solar and wind energy are available, using small 400W turbines. [7]


2.9 Solar roofs can be visually very appealing. [ 8 ] Glass laminates are available in a wide range of colours, and provide insulation (they act like double glazing) as well as electricity-generation. They use very high-quality heat-strengthened glass and include a resin layer to make them shatter-resistant. The solar cells within the laminates also have the beneficial side-effect of reducing glare. The lamiates are made to order, and the customer can decide how much light to let through. [ 9 ] Solar shingles can be fitted when re-roofing. They can replace or be mixed with conventional (non-photovoltaic) slates. [ 10 ]


2.10 Fitting a solar roof need not involve obtaining planning permission, which will only be necessary if the panels project significantly from the roof slope. [ 11 ]


2.11 The Green Party believes we should be making the fullest practicable use of solar energy - and that Britain is missing opportunities to reap the social, economic and ecological benefits of solar power.





3. Germany's (Green-led) environment ministry

leads the world


3.1 Germany, with a Green Party-run environment ministry, is the world leader in solar power. Solar thermal sales in Germany currently represent 50% of the annual EU collector sales. [ 12 ]


3.2 In 1999, the federal German parliament decided upon a programme to install solar power on 100,000 roofs. This is being done by offering interest-free credit to home owners and small companies, up to a maximum of 500,000 Euros. [ 13 ]

3.3 In 2001, 15,000 solar power systems were installed, producing a total of 75 megawatts. For 2002, the figure is expected to increase to 85 megawatts, giving a national total of nearly 300 megawatts [ 14 ] - that's a doubling of solar power within two years.


3.4 Also in 2001, about 100,000 solar-powered water heating systems were installed, with a total collection area of nearly 1 million square metres. [ 15 ] As the world leader in solar power, Germany's rooftops boast 4.3 million square metres of solar collector area, growing by a million square metres per year and providing employment for 20,000 people. [ 16 ]

3.5 In 2000, the federal German parliament passed a new renewable energy law that offers minimum prices for solar electricity (and other renewable energy) fed into the federal grid. [ 17 ]


3.6 German government support for renewable energies (including solar, biomass, geothermal, photovoltaic and small-scale water power) will be 200 million Euro in 2002. In 2001, the German renewable energy sector had a turnover of more than 6 billion Euro and provided employment for more than 120,000 people. [ 18 ]

3.7 Further information (including in English) on the Green-run Federal Ministry for the Environment can be found at .


3.8 The Green Party of England & Wales wants Britain to follow and indeed surpass the German example.

4. What Green councils and Green councillors in

 the UK can do in the coming year and beyond


4.1 Green councillors can take the lead in a number of ways:


            a. Ensuring maximum uptake of available grants from central government. [ 19 ]


            b. Lobbying central government for the grant scheme to be extended.


            c. Fitting solar roofs to council buildings, including schools and libraries, benefiting from government grants.


            d. Fitting solar roofs on council houses - potentially in a major programme fitting thousands of roofs over a period of years. A council willing to cashflow such a programme could recoup the capital costs by increasing the rent on the properties concerned during the requisite payback period.


            e. Campaigning for law changes to oblige all new homes and business premises to meet state-of-the-art energy-efficiency standards, including solar roofs.


            f. Lobbying central government for a strengthening of the Home Energy Conservation Act targets, giving councils additional funding to help achieve demanding targets. Such a policy would have aditional social benefits, including the creation of many thousands of jobs and a significant reduction in most people's fuel bills. Funded by the taxpayer, such a policy would ultimately pay for itself by reducing the hidden costs of pollution from energy production - including health costs attributable to pollution-related illness, and the colossal economic impacts of climate change.


            g. Directly funding solar roof programmes targeted on less affluent sections of the community. [ 20 ]


Appendix 1

Installation costs of solar roofs


Table 1

Indicative prices, Solar Century products [ 21 ]


Note: The quoted cost is for a full installation and is fully inclusive of design, advice and installation of the full system, and negotiations with your electricity network and supplier. The average size of a domestic installation is 1-2 kilowatts.



Product             Solar Shingles            Terra Solar     Solar modules                        Solar modules
                                                and SunSlates            (crystalline)                   (thick-film)


(good light            good                 excellent            excellent                       very good


(low light

conditions)            excellent           good                 good                             very good

Area needed            16                     10                     8 - 9                              12

per kilowatt
(sq metres)


Approx cost            £8,000              £10,500            £ 8,000                         £8,000

per kilowatt
(full installation)

Table 2

Indicative prices, varying sizes of solar PV installation [ 22 ]


Note 1: The prices outlined in the guide table are for a full installation.The price varies according to the product chosen (see Table 1). The size of the installation in square metres will also vary depending on the product. A full installation includes system design, fitting of solar product, installation of inverters and second meter, negotiations with the electricity provider, and a guarantee covering at least 10 years.


Size of Installation                     Approx cost                  Approx electricity units per year

kW       sq m

1          10                                 £7,000-£8,000                          760

1.5        15                                 £10,500-£12,000                        1140

2          20                                 £14,000-£16,000                        1520

2.5        25                                 £17,000-£20,000                        1900



Note 2: For solar thermal, a full installation includes system design, fitting of solar product, installation of hot water store (if replaced) and a guarantee covering typically 5 years with a life expectancy of 25 years. [ 23 ]

Appendix 2

Some interesting facts about solar energy

[ 24 ]


A2.1 Power generated by photovoltaics (PV) could provide 10,000 times more energy than the
world currently uses.

A2.2 If we covered a small fraction of the Sahara desert with PV, we could generate all the world's electricity requirements.

A2.3 If you install a solar photovoltaic tiled roof, you could prevent over 34 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions during its lifetime.

A2.4 Today all TV and communication satellites are powered by PV. In the heavens there is no mains power, but the earth receives a continuous power input from the sun of 200 x 1015 Watts - that's 200 followed by 15 zeros! An unimaginably huge amount of energy which completely dwarfs the capabilities of fossil fuels or nuclear fission... and it's clean and free.

A2.5 Two billion people on earth have no electricity. Typically their energy comes from candles, kerosene and batteries. Often these monthly costs are greater than the cost of a solar mortgage to pay for a quality solar home system.

A2.6 Many buildings use cladding materials which cost £1,000 per square metre. The bronze façade to the new Westminster parliament office complex cost over £7,000 per square metre. By contrast, solar PV cladding - which can look every bit as attractive as marble or bronze - costs as little as £500 per square metre. It would also have provided clean and indeed free power for the building.

A2.7 PV provides power when you need it, where you need it. Caravaners, campers, backpackers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts can now have solar PV power packs that fit in a rucksack, provide power for laptops, GPS devices, music, light at night, and a charging point for mobile phones.

A2.8 Case studies of buildings using photovoltaics can be found on the Solar Century website at






1. Smart Energy website says 40%. The Solar Trade Association says tyically 50%: communication with author 23.4.02.

2. Solar Trade Association, communication with author 23.4.02.

3. Solar Trade Association, communication with author 23.4.02.

4. <> .

5. Making and installing solar electric systems does of course use energy. But the energy pay-back time for a panel - when it has generated as much energy as was used to produce it - is between one and five years (depending on the type of panel). As panels have a lifetime of approximately thirty years, the original energy cost is more than compensated for. The 'thick-film' panel, made from recycled silicon, uses relatively little energy during manufacturing. <> .

6. <> .

7. <> .

8. See examples at <> .

9. <> .

10. <> .

11. DETR guidelines, Planning - A Guide for Householders, section G: “you do not need to apply for permission for the installation of solar panels which do not project significantly beyond the roof slope.” Even if your home is in a conservation area this counts more often than not. Free copies of the guidelines are available from 0870 122 6236. <> .

12. Website of the SolTherm Europe Initiative, This source shows that:

            a. The sales of solar collectors in the EU in 1999 was 900,000 square metres, leading to an overall installed collector surface of 9 million square metres. In 1999, 90% of the sales consisted of flat plate collectors and 10% of vacuum tube collectors.

            b. Market growth in 1999 and 2000 was approximately 10% per year. This means that for 2001 the total installed area may be estimated at 11 million square metres.

            c. Since 1990, the average growth rate of the collector market was 13%, although large differentiations were reported in this period.

            d. Since 1990, the average growth rate of the collector market was 13%, although large differentiations were reported in this period.

13. Source: website of the Federal Ministry of Environment.

14. Source: Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen Bundestagsfraktion, Die Grüne Umweltbilanz, Dec 2001.

15. B90/DG, ibid.

16. Source: website of the Federal Ministry of Environment,

17. Source: website of the Federal Ministry of Environment,

18. Source: website of Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen.

19. The government announced in March 2002 that it will put £20 million towards the installation of of solar power systems in homes and offices around the country. The funding is expected to increase domestic solar power installations in the UK tenfold.

            Householders and companies can apply for a solar power grant (NREL). The money is being made available through the government's Major Photovoltaics Demonstration Programme (PV MDP). The government also announced, around the same time, £4 million towards photovoltaic projects for public buildings.

            Grants for domestic customers and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are
likely to be around 50%, whilst those for publicly-run organisations, such as education authorities, NHS trusts, and universities, are likely to receive grants of around 65%. Large profit-making organisations are likely to receive 35% grants.

            The freephone number for the scheme is 0800 298 3978. The website being set up at is scheduled to be operable in the second half of April 2002.

20. District authorities have a Renovation Grant system, whereby the government
allocates a certain proportion of their Revenue Support Grant to Renovation Grants. These are never enough, so the authorities almost always have to top these up considerably using their own capital reserves. These Renovation Grants split down into mandatory (generally for alterations for disability (Disabilities Facilities Grants) and discretionary, according to the local need. These
grants are means-tested, and targeted at individuals who own their own homes but cannot afford the structural changes, or to keep their property up (eg elderly people with major home-renovation problems). These Discretionary Grants could be used (and already are in some authorities) for energy efficiency investment, like cavity wall insultation or loft insultation, though many authorities use other pots of money for this purpose too. These monies could also be used for grants to individuals for energy-generating projects, like windmills.

21. See <> .

22. See <> .

23. Solar Trade Association, communication with author 23.4.02.

24. Provided by Solar Century, <>.


For further information on solar systems contact the Solar Trade Association, National Energy Centre, Davy Avenue, Knowlhill, Milton Keynes MK5 8NG.

Tel 01908 442290. Fax 0870 052 9194.