Is There a Need for a Right to Energy?

We have had a Right to Light for a very long time, and good access to daylight in residential buildings is seen as a central issue when designing buildings in many parts of the world. The benefits to well-being and health are well-recognised, even though this can be difficult to assess when it comes to designing buildings in an urban location where it is nearly impossible to build without affecting someones daylight.

But now that we are designing buildings that can be self-sufficient in terms of energy, achieved by using very energy efficient building fabric, passive solar gains and an energy balance achieved with some roof mounted or facade mounted renewable energy production: Do we need a right to the solar energy that such a building is dependent on?

Under Rights to Light legislation a home that suffers a low threshold of light loss has no right to prevent the construction of a building nearby. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, successive buildings can be built around the affected building, each one diminishing the available daylight by a small amount, until the affected building sits in darkness. Call it ‘Darkness by a Thousand Blinds’ instead of ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’.

In the same way, a self-sustaining building can end up losing its access to solar energy through a gradual encroachment on its surroundings by neighbouring buildings, gradually eroding its access to renewable energy either by casting shade on its solar panels, by preventing solar gains, or by stealing the wind from the blades of a wind turbine.

After 2016 when the zero carbon legislation is enacted, (note I say when, not if) then the use of solar panels will be built into regulation under the Carbon Compliance element of the regulation, and the performance of panels or even solar gains will be an integral element of the performance of the building. Buyers of the building can rightly expect the building to perform in accordance with its energy certificate, and if it doesn’t they have a right to know why not.

How long will it be before neighbours are suing each other for loss of income due to encroachment on one another’s solar gains?

I foresee planning arguments, neighbour disputes and legislation ahead.


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