SEIA, the solar industry’s main trade organization, has released a long-awaited Solar Heating and Cooling Roadmap to installing more solar thermal systems in the U.S. There’s a lot of great information here and a bold vision for a solar thermal future, but we will need to aggressively pursue policy makers in order for these goals to be achieved.
Currently, solar thermal installations lag far behind the number of solar PV installations, and as the report indicates, this is due to many factors, including weak policies, the lack of available financing, natural gas economics, and consumer awareness.
One of the most revealing graphic shows the levelized cost of fuel today. Solar thermal beats oil and electric heating applications, but just misses natural gas—for now. Should natural gas prices rise just two cents per kWhth in the future, solar thermal will be cost competitive on a large scale. (Free Hot Water has already shown that it’s cost competitive for new and renovated apartment buildings.)
The Road Map lays out a goal to install 100 million solar thermal panels (300 GWth) by 2050, and suggests policy changes to achieve it. Among the suggestions:
- Making specific long-term targets
- Creating local and national financial incentives, including rebates, grants, and tax incentives, including extending the 30% Federal ITC past 2016
- Creating renewable thermal portfolio standards that may include building mandates for solar thermal
- Soft cost reductions in permitting, universal standards, etc
- Allowing commercial pool heating to be included in the Federal ITC Increasing consumer awareness through the media and social media
- Supporting solar thermal research and development
- Supporting workforce development programs, including on-the-job training and educational training at community colleges
If these suggestions are implemented and the goals met, then solar thermal could finally become a large part of the United State’s clean energy portfolio. According to the report, nearly 8% of the total heating and cooling needs in the U.S. can be met by solar heating and cooling. Key benefits would combine to nearly $100 billion in annual positive economic impacts, including:
- $61 billion in annual energy savings resulting in $421 in additional per capita disposable income
- $19.1 billion in deferred electric and natural gas infrastructure expansion and repair
- $2.1 billion in increased federal tax revenue through job and economic growth
- $1.4 billion increase in annual manufacturing GDP
- 50,250 new American jobs corresponding to a $3.8 billion increase in annual wages. Since these positions are largely installation-driven, they cannot be outsourced. Employment in the SHC sector currently exceeds 5,000 jobs
If not…then business as usual will make solar thermal have a much smaller impact:
To read the full report, go to: www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-heating-cooling-roadmap-fact-sheet
Free Hot Water would like to thank SEIA and its partners for creating the report, and we hope that we can all work together to implement these suggestions and avoid the “business as usual” scenario above.