TODAY’S STUDY: THE SOLAR HOT WATER OPPORTUNITY
Solar Heating & Cooling: Energy for a Secure Future; How smart and effective solar heating and cooling policies can create new American jobs, stimulate the U.S. economy and protect the environment.
October 2013 (BEAM Engineering/SEIA)
The heating and cooling of air and water are essential parts of our everyday lives, supporting our comfort, safety, and productivity. However, these services come at a cost, with approximately 44% of energy consumption in the United States directly attributable to heating and cooling. Solar heating and cooling (SHC) can play a significant role in providing an economically viable and environmentally sustainable long-term solution to these essential needs.
This report seeks to establish: 1. How SHC fits into the current U.S. energy picture 2. Key benefits of the technology 3. The current condition of the SHC market 4. Specific national targets 5. Policies needed to achieve these targets.
The current U.S. energy picture
Current dialogue about energy in the United States is centered around electricity and transportation. However, a third element is missing from this discussion: the thermal energy that is used for all heating and cooling end- use applications. The residential, commercial, and industrial sectors spend over $270 billion annually on heating and cooling. SHC technologies possess a wide range of applications and proven uses, including domestic water heating, space heating, swimming pool heating, air conditioning, process heating, steam generation, and air heating.
SHC draws from an inexhaustible energy source while displacing fossil fuels and electricity otherwise needed for heating and cooling. This reduces emissions of CO2 and air pollutants while stimulating local job and economic growth. As a mature, low-risk technology, SHC is deployable throughout the U.S. given our vast solar resources.
Basics and benefits
Solar heating collectors capture the sun's energy and efficiently transfer this heat for heating and cooling applications - easily integrating into most buildings. SHC equipment consists largely of copper, aluminum, steel, or polymers, most of which are easily recyclable and non-toxic. Systems are typically sized to the specific water heating or space conditioning loads of the building.
Residential solar water heating systems typically range between $6,000 to $10,000, while commercial and industrial systems generally fall within the $20,000 to $1,000,000 range per system. Depending on application, location, and financial incentives the payback period can be as little as 4 to 8 years.
Capital expenditures (CAPEX) for SHC systems are often higher than conventional fuel systems, although operational expenses (OPEX) are much lower since the fuel is generated and supplied for free. There is no price volatility with solar energy, so given its lower OPEX it is often easier for businesses and families to budget fuel expenses over the long term with SHC installed.
Employment in the SHC sector currently exceeds 5,000 jobs. Since these positions are largely installation-driven, they cannot be outsourced. These jobs are higher paying, with median wages 13% above those in other U.S. industries. With an increased national emphasis on manufacturing and a growing global need for SHC equipment, the U.S. has the opportunity to invest in and expand its domestic manufacturing base.
The U.S. is the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), and as such is a contributor to extreme weather events and health related issues attributable to global warming. SHC technologies emit 0 pounds of CO2 per MWhth of thermal energy generated, while natural gas - the 'cleanest' option of the fossil fuels - emits 400 pounds of CO2 per of MWhth of generation. In many circumstances, SHC displaces combustion pollutants generated within our homes or places of business, supporting a reduction in the amount of pollutants we breathe every day.
Current market conditions
Each year approximately 30,000 SHC systems are installed in the U.S., generating an estimated $435 million in annual revenue. There is currently 9 GWth of SHC capacity installed in the U.S., which ranks 36th in the world in installed capacity relative to its population. The vast majority of SHC installations are located in China (152.2 GWth) and Europe (39.3 GWth). The majority of these applications are for water heating, though commercial-scale solar space cooling is already being deployed in Japan, Korea, and China. In developed markets, such as Austria, combination water and space heating systems make up 50% of installations.
The solar heating market saw a period of rapid growth in 1978 when a 40% federal investment tax credit was introduced following the oil crisis. Coupled with additional state tax credits, this caused a dramatic ramp-up of the solar market and drove innovation within the SHC industry. However, the federal tax credit was allowed to expire at the end of 1985, causing the solar heating market to contract sharply. A Congressional Budget Office report noted that from 1916 to the 1970s, federal energy-related tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing the production of domestic oil and natural gas.
An independent analysis has shown that across the period of modern energy infrastructure development, the gas and oil industries have been provided an annual average of $4.86 billion in Federal support. This has created an uneven playing field with other energy technologies, establishing a number of market barriers to SHC adoption that must now be addressed. These barriers include lack of consumer awareness of SHC as a heating and cooling option, high upfront costs due to lack of volume, unclear permitting and building code guidelines, and under- developed industry distribution channels.
National SHC targets
The policy recommendations in this Roadmap target the installation of 300 GWth of SHC capacity by 2050. Without adoption of the Recommended Policy, and continuation of Business-as-Usual, 75 GWth of capacity is expected to be installed by the same point in time. To reach the more aggressive goal, a deployment of 100 million SHC panels, or in lay terms, about 10ft2 of solar collector area per person, is required. By achieving this goal, SHC can generate nearly 8% of the total heating and cooling needs in the United States by 2050.
Achieving these targets will produce a number of positive economic and societal impacts. The creation of over 50,000 jobs driving $61 billion in annual energy savings will allow Americans to keep additional money in their pockets while creating long term local jobs. Furthermore, deployment of SHC can avoid at least $19.1 billion in expected transmission and distribution upgrades to the existing electric and natural gas infrastructures.
This deployment will avoid 226 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, or the equivalent of taking 64 coal plants permanently offline. Distributed SHC generation can also mitigate localized environmental damage through the partial displacement of fossil fuel related drilling, extraction, transportation, and storage.
Policies needed to achieve targets
Renewable heating and cooling standards would strongly complement existing renewable energy policies. The policies required to meet national targets should be long-term oriented and provide financial incentives. Long-term targets with clearly defined goals can take many forms - including Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) with SHC eligibility, Renewable Thermal Standards, and building mandates.
The three main types of financial incentives are tax credits, rebate/grant programs, and Renewable Energy Credits (REC). Successful financial incentives allow businesses to make investments under predictable, long-term economic conditions. Similar to the SunShot Initiative, the Federal government should also take a leadership role in reducing soft costs of SHC to achieve cost competitiveness with conventional fuels.
Other supporting programs include consumer awareness campaigns, research and development for innovation, demonstration projects, and workforce development. Solar energy is widely supported in the U.S., with both Republicans and Democrats favoring solar above all other forms of energy. Sustained and smart investments in SHC will facilitate a unified transition to clean and low-cost heating and cooling solutions for the United States.