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Solar water heaters get a $350-million boost in California

January 21, 2010 |  3:43 pm


California regulators approved a $350-million rebate offer today to encourage homes and businesses to install water-heating systems powered by solar energy.

The state Public Utilities Commission established the California Solar Initiative Thermal Program, which will use $250 million to replace natural-gas-powered water heaters, with $25 million set aside for low-income customers. An additional $100.8 million will be used to swap out water heaters powered by electricity.

The incentives will decrease steadily over eight years until Dec. 31, 2017, or until the funds run out. The rebates will begin retroactively in August 2009.

The program could result in systems that displace 585 million therms of natural gas, or the equivalent of placing a solar water heater on 200,000 single-family homes, according to the commission. It could also lead to systems that displace 275.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. will offer the deal to ratepayers whose solar water heaters displace either electric or natural gas use. Southern California Edison customers who displace their electric use with their new system and Southern California Gas Co. ratepayers who do the same with natural gas will also get a rebate.

Solar water heaters, which are usually placed on rooftops, absorb the sun’s energy to warm water, which is then stored in a water tank, according to Environment California. The advocacy group says the new rebate could mean more than 3,000 new jobs, a 5% reduction in natural gas demand and a 35% drop in wholesale natural gas prices.

Solar water heaters are already gaining popularity in Southern California.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Richard Braun with his storage tank, which holds the water heated by solar panels on top of his Encino home. He has used the system to lower his heating bill since the 1970s. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times