Op-ed: How rooftop solar PV can help turn the gas valves off

Citizens’ demand for rooftop solar photovoltaics is rapidly increasing, and governments should intervene through incentives and better permitting procedures, writes Seda Orhan.

The new EU Solar Strategy published by the European Commission last week says, “panel by panel, the infinite energy of the sun will help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”, so what is taking so long for EU member states to embrace rooftop solar photovoltaic?

Tragic events have acted as key reminders of how our dependence on fossil fuels is impacting us. From flooded villages, long droughts, forest fires, and wars, these unfortunate but important reminders are becoming more frequent and more dangerous.

EU countries should have been weaning themselves off Russian gas and fossil fuels, and all fossil fuels in general, years ago for both the sake of the climate, the environment, and peace.

Fortunately, the technological capabilities for Europe to transition to a safer, fully renewable energy system are available. One such technology is solar PV (photovoltaic) which can be installed on rooftops of residential, public, and commercial buildings.

The rollout of rooftop solar PV across EU member states will be central in helping lower energy bills, creating many decent jobs, and developing a secure energy supply for Europe independent of Russian fossil gas.

The Commission’s proposal to make solar installations on buildings mandatory is a step in the right direction. However, the timing is far too late especially given the increased interest in solar rooftops since energy bills have begun to skyrocket.

The timeline for the mandatory installation of solar PV on all new buildings, when technically feasible, needs to be brought forward to 2025. Furthermore, there needs to be mandatory solar PV installation on existing buildings as part of deep renovation strategies from 2025 onwards.

This will tremendously contribute to the EU’s efforts in Europe to stay in line with the Paris Agreement and keep the rise in temperature below 1.5° C.

This leaves the ball in member states’ court, governments need to adopt key measures for large-scale rollout of rooftop solar PV. However, a recent study published by CAN Europe found that no EU Member State has fully adequate policies to ensure the necessary deployment of rooftop solar PV.

In the short term, governments need to urgently address the national economic, political, and administrative barriers that can disrupt the rollout of rooftop solar PV.

EU member states should realise that the path to a resilient, just, and independent energy system involves citizens and communities on a large scale. Public demand for rooftop solar PV is rapidly increasing year on year as people are becoming keener to take on the role of “prosumers” where they can produce, consume and even sell their own self-made energy to their neighbours or to the national grid. Energy communities allow for collective self-consumption and can include more vulnerable households or homeowners who do not have adequate roof space for solar panels.

People will no longer have to fear the energy bill coming through their letter boxes as their gas boilers will be phased out. Instead, rooftop solar PV combined with heat pumps, building renovations, and improving energy efficiency standards, will help lower energy and heating costs and not fuel dangerous wars or extreme climate events.

The benefits that come with solar energy can no longer be overlooked and a much stronger commitment to solar PV in the EU member states is needed.

Governments need to begin immediately rolling out solar panels for rooftops while in parallel, putting together a clear road map with ambitious targets that are underpinned by continuous and thorough assessments.

Barriers and bottlenecks that are blocking developments need to be identified and addressed. Permitting procedures need to become more transparent, digitised, and become shorter in duration.

Available funds need to finance support schemes and incentives that will lead to a higher uptake of rooftop solar PV along with renewable energy training programs for qualified installers, architects, administrative staff, and policymakers. Public awareness campaigns should highlight the benefits of solar energy and dispel any false myths or perceptions about the technology.

Implementing these policies and practices across EU member states will enable Europe to achieve an annual growth of at least 5 million new solar PV rooftops in 2025, leading to an accelerated and fair energy transition away from fossil fuels, this is a target that cannot be missed.

Op-ed written by Renewable Energy Campaign Coordinator, Seda Orhan.

Published in Euractiv