MCS on renewing Britain: deserts and forests of renewables

The report identifies commonalities in areas where small-scale renewables are particularly prevalent or scarce creating, what MCS calls, forests or deserts of renewable technologies.

The data shows the pace of installing small-scale renewables is achingly slow in the context of the 2050 target: 1.2 million installations over 14 years suggests a rate of just 100,000 per annum, even in a period when solar PV boomed.

UK focus

The report suggests that the UK certainly has some ground to make up compared to the take up of renewable energy in other countries, particularly in regard to heat pumps. To put the UK’s performance into perspective, the report states:

‘The total number of heat pumps sold in the UK in 2017 was less than a tenth of the quarter of a million sold in France. Germans bought half a million heat pumps and the Netherlands, with more households connected to the grid than the UK, managed proportionately more heat pump sales (average annual heat pump sales per 1,000 households, Netherlands 1.1, UK 0.7)’

Forests and deserts

The report states that rural or semi-rural areas in the UK are leading the way on small-scale installations, and adoption of renewable heat correlates to areas where a large proportion of consumers have no access to mains gas – as well as in areas where fuel poverty is prevalent. Examples of such areas in Britain are the Orkney Islands, where one in five properties have some form of small-scale renewables and the Western Isles, which has the highest level of fuel poverty in Britain (36%) and the highest proportion of homes with Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP).

With almost 20,000 Solar PV installations, generating 37% of its electricity from renewables, Cornwall is the leader in terms of number of installations in Britain.

In Sunderland, where fewer than one in every 100 homes is designated rural, and has one of the lowest average disposable incomes, it also has one of the highest rates of PV installations in the country (7.6%).

The urban deserts of London are at the other end of the scale however, with less than one in every 127 households having installations of small-scale renewable technologies. The report also highlights that local authorities, including most of Lancashire, West Yorkshire, the West Midlands and South Wales have an installation rate of fewer than 5% of households.

However, several urban and semi-urban areas, such as Stirling and Peterborough, have the highest levels of PV installations, while Enfield in London has the 11th highest percentage of Ground/Water Source Heat Pumps.

Key recommendations

With the above in mind and the estimation that it would take around 250 years to reach the point where all homes in the UK had some form of renewable energy installed, MCS makes the following recommendations to government for reaching the net zero target:

  1. Learn from the successes of the devolved administrations and other tiers of government outlined in the report e.g. Scotland’s ‘whole-system’ approach, which is planned and deployed on an area-by-area basis, with local heat and energy efficiency strategies, small-scale renewables supported through subsidy, grants and loans and, very importantly, independent advice.
  2. Use those lessons to set clear, evidence-driven and ambitious targets delivered through long-term incentives
  3. Devise an integrated package of support for small-scale renewables that is targeted to people and the areas they live
  4. Continue the redevelopment of MCS to ensure high standards for the sector and to support installers to become certified
  5. Remove VAT on domestic renewables for 10 years
  6. Change building regulations so that all new build homes from 2024 have zero carbon heating options

Ian Rippin, chief executive officer of MCS, said:
“Domestic renewables have come a long way since 2008, when just 43 installations were made. The wealth of data at our disposal that we’ve distilled into this report paints an invaluable picture of the past to help inform our current path to net-zero.

“The data speaks for itself: Britain is a divided country when it comes to the investment in small-scale renewables, with myriad factors affecting uptake. True change is happening at a local authority level; something which central government should learn from.

“Short, sharp injections of support in the form of consumer incentives have been shown to drive temporary demand. Our core recommendations are centred on the fact we need a carefully considered, long-term roadmap for the quick, broad adoption of renewables and the decarbonisation of our homes.

“MCS and the wider industry are here to continue supporting the government as we move into a crucial period in addressing the climate emergency.”