Blog: would you mind a supplier owning part of your roof?

An Englishman’s home is his castle, so they say. And when they say that, I presume they mean he’ll up the drawbridge as soon as there’s a whiff of invasion. […]

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By Vicky Ellis

An Englishman’s home is his castle, so they say. And when they say that, I presume they mean he’ll up the drawbridge as soon as there’s a whiff of invasion. A siege is better than enslavement and all that.

When it comes to our friends across the pond, even more so. You own what’s on your land from the surface down – which explains why at a recent shale gas conference I went to, an American regaled us with tales of the ubiquitous trailer with a Bentley out front. Classy.

So I was intrigued to hear the novel, even revolutionary idea floated by Steven Chu, ex-Energy Secretary for the United States. Explaining his idea in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Chu said utilities need “another business model” to cope with people getting their own energy sources. He suggested they should be the ones who own the solar panels on our roofs. They would sell the electricity from those panels back to the homeowners.

That’s actually quite a weird, mind-bending concept. The immediate questions which pop up are numerous but my first thought was this: Brits are quick to get in a tizz if a neighbour’s overgrown bush or crumbling wall encroaches on our property. Don’t even start me on Leylandii!

How would they feel if suddenly that energy generating thing on top of the house is owned by someone else?

In reality it may not be as strange to our everyday lives as it sounds: we live in houses bought with borrowed money or for people renting or in council houses, they really are owned by someone else. Some of us get phones as part of a contract and then pay them back gradually.

The solar panels being bought in the Government’s Green Deal scheme are the same – you get cash from the Government to buy the solar panels then pay back that loan with the energy savings.

But just as most would pay for a new boiler or a satellite dish rather than borrow it, there is, fundamentally, something different about a business owning a part of your home. What’s mine is mine – and not for a firm to mess with.

When you get into the nitty gritty, other questions abound, not least how much could a supplier start charging for electricity generated just a few feet over your bedroom?

On the one hand you might be grateful for a supplier installing the solar panels – but in my opinion, it’s a bit like selling your Gran marmalade from the oranges which fell in her garden (that you just happened to liberate).

But my energy friends and colleagues, let me know your thoughts. Perhaps Englishmen and women don’t mind an extra battlement on the castle owned by the king – as long as it powers the heated moat!