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Hawaii goes one better on solar water heating

What took Hawaii so long? Richard Braun of Encino installed his heater three decades ago.

California last year passed legislation offering homeowners and businesses $250 million in incentives to install 200,000 solar water systems over the next 10 years.

But Hawaii Thursday took far bolder action, becoming the first state in the nation to require all new homes built after January 1, 2010 to be equipped with solar or other energy-efficient hot water systems.

Unlike photovoltaic panels for electricity, solar hot water is relatively cheap: systems can cost $4,000 to $6,000.

With California's incentives, consumers can recoup their costs in less than 10 years through reduced gas bills.

Hawaii is highly dependent on imported oil for its energy needs and the state has the highest electricity costs in the nation. It is estimated that solar water heaters will save the average Hawaiian family of four about $600 a year.

The move will also reduce global warming. Hawaii's switch to solar will prevent the emission of more than 10,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year.

Israel and Spain also require solar heating in new residences, and solar water heaters are ubiquitous across the Mediterranean.  "Mandating solar hot water heating for all new homes is a no-brainer," said Hawaii Senator Gary Hooser, the bill's sponsor. "This is the low-hanging fruit, a low-cost, proven technology that saves homeowners money and is great for the environment."

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Richard Braun installed a solar water system in his Encino home 30 years ago. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

 
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