Good news; if they’re clever, local authorities can make most applications of solar work today, without central government support.

That’s a message we want to get out wide and far as we publish ‘Leading Lights’, and look to work with local and regional leaders to reboot the UK solar revolution. And our leading light authorities are also using energy storage and even masterplanning smart neighbourhoods today. Our new Leading Lights Local Authority Network will ensure best practice is shared, and their efforts will be strongly supported by our members.

A decentralised energy future is irresistible; it is not just the economics of technology change stipulating a smarter, more localised system with blossoming consumer controls and choice, many local people want a solid stake in clean energy and in climate action too.

Their locally elected leaders increasingly reflect this. We’ve been delighted by the UK100 initiative which brings together councils with ambitions to deliver 100% clean energy by 2050. We’ve been heartened by the Mayor of London’s Solar Action Plan and encouraged by the new Metro Mayors’ ambitions​ for clean air and clean energy. And, with a wave of new local councillors after the local elections next month, we hope to see solar ambitions refreshed across councils of all political persuasions.  

Action can’t wait; analysis by C40 Cities shows to deliver on the Paris Agreement goals, every city across the UK should be powered by at least 90% renewable energy, making investment a necessity today. The good news is the special circumstances of local authorities - namely access to land and roof space, low or zero cost borrowing, secure off-takers for power and long project horizons - mean they can make projects work economically today, where the commercial industry may struggle.

Our analysis shows 85% of local authorities already own solar panels, nearly a third have integrated solar into their environmental strategies and the top 10 local authority investors have already collectively invested £80 million in solar. Proactive councils help to boost solar homes; enthusiastic Peterborough has 100 times the concentration of solar households as Kensington.  

The case studies showcased in our report have been selected for their relevance today. Local authorities no longer need central government support to do solar farms on good sites (such as West Sussex), or to invest in solar retrofits on schools roofs if they make use of zero interest Salix Finance (Calderdale), which is now open again to solar.

The economics of solar rooftops across the local authority estate, and beyond, can be beaten with efficient tendering schemes (Portsmouth) and using a common PPA model. Indeed, we commissioned independent modelling by James Owen to confirm the viability of these approaches, modelling we will share with local authorities in our Leading Lights Network.  

Every local authority can ramp up its new build policies. There has been understandable nervousness, following the mishmash of reviews, Ministerial Statements and the scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes agenda, as to where local authorities actually stand on their powers to set higher new build standards today.

Lord Bourne confirmed in the Lords last year that local authorities are free to set higher new build standards. Naturally our report features leading lights, such as Bristol and Milton Keynes, doing just that. Evidence from Scotland, which introduced higher new build standards in 2015, shows no impact on build rates. Indeed several of our members partner with major home builders like Persimmon and Barratt, who take solar comfortably in their stride.  

The solar industry needs to understand that many local authorities are under enormous pressure today. They are looking for new sources of revenue to fund even essential services. Several of our leading lights, like in Nottingham, Portsmouth and Hounslow, have superb energy officers with the confidence to take forward highly innovative & complex schemes that can secure future income. But many authorities have lost staff capacity, so it is good to know that there are companies able to partner with local authorities to help lift the load, like iChoosr’s work with the GLA on Solar Together or Solarplicity’s offer for making meaningful cuts to social housing energy bills. You’ll find these case studies in our report. 

It’s not all good news; during our research we were saddened to find too many valuable community and social housing retrofit schemes had collapsed. Certainly deep interventions for domestic retrofits continue to need support, and this is an important message for BEIS. Local authorities rightly want to give attention to fuel poor homes.  

In short, our new report aims to empower local councils, community energy groups and local people everywhere. And of course there is so much good stuff happening out there, we’ll have missed some fantastic solar and energy storage schemes, so please do get in touch and tell us if your local authority is doing something brilliant. And if you’re a local authority do join our low cost Leading Lights Local Authority Network​, so we can support your best efforts. The STA will be holding a series of regional workshops with MPs and local leaders to help spread best practice. All of our members will be able use our Leading Lights presentation to take to their own council to make the case for effective policies. 

It’s been a very tough few years in solar. But our spring will come sooner if we work closely with the passionate leaders in local and regional government who understand how well solar and storage technologies can help them to meet their objectives. 

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