Solar Thermal is a Proven, Low-Cost Technology that Demands New Policy Incentives


Boulder, CO, April 3, 2013 —  Solar thermal technology is simple, reliable and highly efficient, but it remains the less glamorous stepchild of the solar industry, losing out to more attractive incentives for investing in solar electric systems. In developing countries, solar thermal technology is widespread, often providing the only option for hot-water heating, but the U.S. lags far behind. In some states, Renewable Energy Standards – also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards – don’t even include solar thermal. According to Mike Healy, Chair of the US Solar Heating and Cooling Alliance, there is an urgent need for new mechanisms to finance solar thermal that would provide predictable and stable incentives. Permitting regulations also need to be streamlined.

Compared to photovoltaic systems, which rarely reach more than 17% efficiency, solar thermal systems, which use the sun’s heat directly, can reach efficiencies of up to 80%. They can be used for hot water heating, space heating and cooling, pool and spa heating, and industrial process heating. In a typical residence, solar thermal can handle the hot water and space heating, which can make up roughly 50% of the building’s energy requirements. But, Sandra Lee of Skyline Innovations, a company specializing in solar thermal financing and project development, says metering of solar hot water systems is key to their ability to generate renewable energy credits and to measure the amount of utility energy offset by a solar thermal system.

While natural gas prices are just beginning to rise from an all-time low, it’s hard for residential system owners to see rapid paybacks from their solar thermal systems. That’s why, says Healy, the solar industry can benefit now by selling to businesses that now use large amounts of hot water from central boilers, such as laundries, hotels, hospitals, housing developments, food processing plants and microbreweries. Agricultural systems, including poultry farms and greenhouses, would also help scale the industry more rapidly than a policy focus on residential systems. Customers who heat using electricity, propane, or fuel oil also stand to benefit greatly from solar thermal systems.

Several panels will address solar thermal policy issues at SOLAR 2013. One panel will discuss the synergies between solar PV and solar thermal in several utility portfolios, and present a study that has measured effects on peak-load pricing and solar thermal impact on PV integration. Healy’s panel – Friday, April 19 at 3:15pm – will examine market development for solar thermal, and explore proven policy options and the practical implications of those policies given today’s political environment.

About the American Solar Energy Society:

Established in 1954, the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is the nation’s leading association of solar professionals and advocates. Our mission is to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy. ASES leads national efforts to increase the use of solar energy and other sustainable technologies through the publication of the award-winning SOLAR TODAY magazine, the ASES National Solar Tour – the largest grassroots solar event in the world, and the the ASES National Solar Conference.

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