Washington DC Solar Commercial Solar Service
Written by Rick Peters

Commercial Solar Water Heating: ANOTHER Renaissance?

Washington DC Solar ,Commercial Solar ServiceSolar water heating has quite a long history. In the United States alone, the industry has boomed and busted 3 times in the last 130 years – each time displaced by cheap energy. Many are surprised to know that the first US patent for a residential solar water heater was issued in 1891 to Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor. That’s right, 1891.  In the 1920’s, 30% of the homes in Pasadena, CA had solar water heaters.  With the discovery of natural gas resources in the region, the industry evaporated almost overnight.  Solar thermal technology is mature and efficient; the problem lies with allowing our commitment to solar to dissolve in favor of decreasing natural gas prices.

In these previous industry “busts”, energy became cheap and we were lulled into a false expectation of stable prices. Each time, not long after the industry was dismantled, energy prices began to creep back up, making us long for that clean and cheap solar energy again. So today Solar Water Heating is on the rise again. Will it be different in the 21st century or are we doomed to repeat the same cycle? What was it that Winston Churchill said about failing to learn from history….?

The recent surge in US solar water heating deployments began in 2008. This resurgence, especially at the commercial scale, has helped to drive up adoption rates while scaling down installation costs. Several factors are converging in recent years to bring about this renaissance:

  • Engineers, architects, and contractors are becoming increasingly familiar with this mature technology – improving costs with increasing experience
  • Regional incentives are bolstering the existing federal incentives to reduce the capital investment.
  • The federal government has mandated that a minimum of 30% of water heating must come from solar for new construction or major renovations on federal buildings.
  • Project Developers like Skyline Innovations (http://www.nextility.com/) have introduced new business models to help deploy these systems for those without available capital.
  • Property owners increasingly want to have more control over their energy budget
  • Various societal pressures continue to reward solar adoption
  • An improving economy has allowed property owners finally to reinvest in their buildings

Remarkably, much of this has occurred despite a backdrop of rapidly falling natural gas prices (the primary heating fuel for commercial water heating), decreasing drastically from 2008 to 2012. However, in the last 18 months, natural gas prices are climbing again in a trend that is likely to continue: gas exportation; deployment of energy intensive manufacturing in the US; diversion of more natural gas to transportation (locomotives, trucks, fleet vehicles and eventually automobiles); conversion of more power plants and residential heating to natural gas.In light of these trends, property owners are rapidly moving forward to install solar water heating systems before the financial incentives expire. Business owners with substantial hot water loads in Washington DC and Maryland are able to achieve simple ROIs of 2-7 years. This approach requires them to take a slightly longer perspective, recognizing that they are buying 30+ years of energy up front for a fixed price (with generous subsidies). Whether financed independently or through the bank, building owners are able to lock in their energy prices and hedge the inevitable increase in fuel costs while leveraging all of the other benefits of renewable energy.

If you have any doubts about this trend, visit our commercial solar water heating page and take a look at the photos of just a subset of the projects we’ve been deploying in the region (https://solarsaves.net/commercial-solar-water-heating/).

If you want to know more about the history of solar water heating, check out this excellent book: The Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology, coauthored by Ken Butti and John Perlin.

Commercial Solar Service,Residential Solar Panels
Written by Anonymous

Commercial Solar Water Heating on the Rise

Residential Solar Panels,Commercial Solar ServiceWhile still a relatively well kept secret among the general public, large scale solar water heating is popping up in more and more places. While this technology is relatively mature, the practical deployment is still in its infancy.

While we’ve seen lots of growth in recent years, what is holding back solar water heating? Three things actually: Awareness, Cheap natural gas, and Inertia.

We’re overcoming the awareness challenge slowly but surely. Every week there is another article in the trade press about a prison, dormitory, military barracks, restaurant or health care facility adopting this valuable technology. These systems are piquing the interest of facilities managers, engineers, and architects on the demand side and mechanical contractors and manufacturers on the supply side; helping to raise awareness among the traditional commercial water heating business community. This is particularly the case in markets like Washington DC, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, and California where solar water heating systems benefit from the existing solar PV incentive markets.

Cheap natural gas. I’ve written on this before, but it’s worth repeating. Today’s wholesale natural gas prices are close to a ten year low, and more than 75% below their most recent peak in July of 2008. Recent data indicates that prices are trending up again, but the current low price combined with economic uncertainty has facility managers and CFOs hesitating until they can see a faster payback on a solar water heating investment. While a 4 year payback may not seem enticing in today’s economy, the problem with waiting for the inevitable price increase of natural gas is that you forgo some of the best incentives existing today that will surely be lower or absent in the future. Remember, the solar fuel is free in the future, so increasing gas prices will only improve the economic return in the future.

Inertia is one of the most powerful social forces I know. It plays a huge role here. As engineers and architects continue to gain experience and confidence in specifying SWH systems, volume will continue to drive down costs in much the same way that we have seen with solar PV. The federal government has required the use of SWH on all of their new construction, if feasible. The number of contractors who are capable of installing and servicing these systems continues to increase, giving prospective system owners’ confidence that the systems will not be supported in the future.

Below are a few links highlighting some commercial systems recently commissioned in the U.S. Read on and learn how commonplace this simple technology is becoming.