A Solar Eyesore

Solar panels are great, we can't disagree with that - at least from an environmental and economical point of view! Photovoltaic (PV) panels have been luring in more and more customers, calling homeowners with the promised savings of £1,000+ tax-free energy savings. If you were to read into the environmental and energy-saving benefits of installing a few solar panels onto the rooftop of your home, it wouldn't take long to find at least some kind of enticing gain. We're all for solar panels - renewable energy is certainly the way forward and something we believe in.

However, have you ever heard anyone admire the majestic beauty of a solar panel? Wind turbines are probably one of the very few renewable energy producers that have a kind of aesthetic elegance about them but fitting one of those to the side of your two-bedroom South Kensington flat is not exactly an option. Solar panels, on the other hand, are not exactly the most aesthetically appealing addition to your period property. They're fine when fitted to a new building or onto a side of the roof not directly in street view. However, when they start to impose upon the main facade of the building they really become an imposition. We have seen them fitted to all sides of a roof and to the front facade of the building.

It's really a miracle Planning doesn't get involved in these cases. As designers, we often battle with the Planning Officers of the local councils where we work to better the visual appearance of a building - often when an application is rejected, it is on the grounds of needing to protect the original appearance of the building versus an aesthetic improvement (perhaps the design was too modern or deemed to detached from the original fabric of the building). In any case, I have never heard of an application being rejected on the grounds of an imposing solar panel.

It's not just designers who feel that the over use of solar panels is ruining our street views - residents have their complaints too. Where solar panels are being used in idyllic countryside streets or on a row of period properties, designers and residents alike are speaking out about this 'visual cancer'. A council that approves an eyesore of a solar panel but rejects a refurbishment of a building's facade on the grounds that it is not in keeping with the existing street view is highly hypocritical and these policies should be reviewed urgently.

Furthermore, it is not just the visual impact that concerns us. Solar panels are being fitted on houses that are quite literally falling apart. Old, solid brick constructions with cracking all down the front of the rendering, one hundred year old wooden window frames with leaky single glazed window panes and roof structures urgently in need of insulation... and a row of solar panels on top. Not exactly a winning formula to reach those required U-Values. There is no point in this fickle attempt at environmental betterment at a high initial cost when the fabric of the existing building has not yet been addressed - it's much wiser to spend on a 'fabric-first' approach.

Solar panels are absolutely fantastic energy-saving creations which environmentally are far superior to the current fossil-fuel-based sources of energy and we love them. However, what concerns us is the blatant over-marketing of their energy-saving qualities to unsuspecting customers who have not been explained fully where the real benefit lie. Our advice on the topic is to only invest in this technology if the fabric of your building is of a high standard, the walls, floors and ceilings are insulated well and all the necessary u-values are being achieved or the benefits of 'free energy' will be lost literally out the window. And if your building ticks all the right boxes and you make the decision to invest - please do consider your neighbours (and any passing designers you might upset)!





Sources:
Homebuilding and Renovation Magazine