The lack of competition for solar water heating services in California is startling. Despite the rich solar thermal rebates that are available in California—and other states—there are few installers who can legally use them and collect the rebates.
In fact, according to the California Solar Initiative (CSI), there only 374 contractors in the entire state that can install solar thermal heating and cooling solutions and are eligible to receive a CSI Thermal rebate.
For the sake of comparison, according to CSI stats, there are 2,244 eligible solar PV contractors in the state–exactly 6 times as many installers. Consequently, of the millions of homes and businesses in California, there’s a huge opportunity for solar hot water installers to capture the market.
To graphically show the opportunity, let’s look at a map of eligible installers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
There are 10 million people in the L.A. area with hundreds of thousands of homes and apartment buildings that have sunny roofs that are ripe for solar hot water. But just look at how little competition there is for the L.A. solar hot water market:
San Francisco installers are grouped together more closely, but clearly there is still very little competition for such a huge metropolitan area:
So, what’s going on here? Why so few solar thermal installers, despite the CSI thermal program and solar hot water being eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit?
First, like many good opportunities, awareness of the opportunity is key. Heating and plumbing contractors are the best equipped to enter the solar water heating business, but they aren’t aware of the lack of competition. As manufacturers and distributors, we need to do a better job at showing them the market opportunity, and we hope this blog post is a start.
Second, training is a factor. Trades people in the plumbing, heating, or solar PV business need local access to solar hot water training.
Third, the actual solar thermal market is still weak. For various reasons, including financing, homes and business consider solar PV before considering solar thermal solutions. That preference is despite the fact that apartment buildings, hotels, hospitals, and nursing homes use huge daily volumes of solar hot water that will significantly reduce their water heating bills—even without generous incentives.
Once again, the solution is better solar thermal marketing and awareness. Under the CSI Thermal program, a portion of the allotted funds is supposed to be directed toward consumer awareness. We hope that these funds are actually being used aggressively today… and tomorrow.
Are you an eligible CSI Thermal installer in California? If so, become a Certified Free Hot Water Installer.
Need a referral for a qualified CSI Thermal installer? Contact Free Hot Water, and we’ll refer you to one.