Although photovoltaics dominate the news, there’s a lot happening in solar thermal that deserves recognition. To address the public relations and advocacy needs of the solar heating and cooling industry, this year SEIA formed its U.S. Solar Heating and Cooling Alliance (SHC Alliance) division. Gal Moyal, CEO and chief engineer at Free Hot Water, is optimistic about the alliance.
“Finally, the industry is getting organized to bring more attention to the entire solar thermal industry,” Moyal says. “It’s early yet, but we hope this coalition will achieve great results in the near future.”
Prices for major thermal components has dropped significantly, too. Moyal says with ROI in less than three years for large projects, solar thermal is attractive to large commercial natural gas-boiler and tank-system users. With solar hot water, the tank is pre-heated with the sun’s energy, so it takes less gas to bring temperatures up to needed level.
Market conditions are also shaping up favorably for solar thermal companies. Fewer U.S. manufacturers are in the industry now, most European players have left and Chinese manufacturers are not yet entrenched. Moyal says this means domestic engineering companies have more motivation to continue innovating without as much foreign competition.
New players in the solar thermal industry are taking a look at how things were done in the past and re-engineering smart design and engineering principals to make installations easier. “Today, we use smart pump stations and simple array design for better flow and functionality,” Moyal says. Still, solar thermal faces challenges.
“Despite solar thermal’s robust ROI for commercial applications, such as apartment buildings, hotels and industrial process heat for food processing, the technology’s benefits and successes are rarely mentioned in the media compared to solar PV,” Moyal says. “That needs to change.”
Moyal explains that the lack of awareness and attention for solar thermal has led many local and state policies to limit rebate and incentive funding.
Suzan Elichaa of Maine-based Solaris says the state’s governor has ended all solar incentives, which could cause sales to plummet.
“It’s hard to sell thermal here anyway,” she says. “The lack of incentives will make it worse.”
Elichaa also sees a need for more technician education, saying techs must be trained to service and repair solar thermal systems, not just install them.
“Solar professionals must understand all the product options, their advantages and disadvantages to truly recommend the right solution for their client,” Elichaa says. “In many states, solar thermal is just ramping up, and there is a real lack of accurate knowledge about the systems.”
In Hawaii, solar hot water is required for new construction. If that policy trend continues, higher demand may drive residentially-installed system costs to a point where solar hot water would become a more of normal way of heating water at home.
Moyal cites a few other things that could help U.S. solar heating & cooling grow:
• Extend the 30% federal ITC (expires 2016)
• Include SHC technologies as generating technologies to be eligible for solar and renewable energy credits and in state and federal renewable portfolio standards
• Allow commercial pools to take the 30% federal ITC
• Adopt strong building energy codes that encourage builders to include SHC on new buildings
• Increase workforce training for solar heating & cooling SPW
To read our introduction to the 2013 trends, click here.