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Solar water heating incentives may be on the way

February 17, 2009 |  4:28 pm

Solar_water_heater

Ninety percent of the hot water that pours from Californians' bathroom and kitchen taps is warmed with natural gas, but all those hot showers come with a cost. Burning natural gas pumps out hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year -- and that's in the state of California alone.

Capitalizing upon the state's goals to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, the California Solar Energy Industries Assn. recently released a study to demonstrate the environmental and financial values of replacing natural-gas water heaters with those that are powered with solar energy in the hopes its study will greenlight a potential $250-million consumer rebate program in the state.

The consumer rebate program is part of AB 1470 -- a 2007 law that charged the California Public Utilities Commission with conducting a pilot project to determine if solar water heating is cost effective enough to implement the rebate program, which would provide financial incentives for the installation of as many as 200,000 solar water heaters. A typical residential solar water heating system costs $6,500.

Thirty-eight percent of the natural gas consumed in a typical California home is used for water heating, according to the CALSEIA study, which was conducted on behalf of the solar thermal and solar electric companies that belong to the trade association. Installing 200,000 solar hot water systems could reduce more than 100,000 tons of global warming pollution each year, according to the study, which was provided to the CPUC. The CPUC is currently evaluating all available data and will release its findings in early March.

"We think it's a great technology that should be promoted just like any solar technology that displaces the use of fossil fuels," said Damon Franz, regulatory analyst with the CPUC's energy division. "We've had solar water heating programs in the past that for various reasons weren't very effective, so we want to make sure that if we have a program, it's a program that's designed to drive down prices and create a self-sustaining solar water heating industry that can survive without government subsidies."

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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