Good news and challenging news for the solar thermal industry. Despite solar hot water getting less attention in the U.S., a new poll released by the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) shows strong public support for solar water heating and agree that solar water heating helps the economy and create jobs.
The independent poll conducted by Gotham Research Group shows that 74% of Americans agree with the statement, “The growth of the solar water heating industry will produce jobs and help the American economy.”
Breaking down the support by region, 80% of Northeastern residents, 78% of Midwestern residents, 69% of Southern residents, and 73% of Western residents agreed with the above statement.
It’s ironic that the South, which has abundant sun hours and heat, agreed less with the statement than those in the North East. The solution is more solar customer education, advocacy, and marketing throughout the U.S., but especially in the South.
The survey also revealed that the public has generally positive perceptions of solar water heating systems, with 48% having a positive response and 4% having a negative. The remaining 52% didn’t have enough information to have an opinion one way or another.
Once again, this 52% figure indicates that the solar water heating industry must increase customer education and marketing if the industry is to grow as fast as solar PV. We do this through our blog, Twitter, Facebook, an e-newsletter, as well as public green energy events, but that's not enough. We can't do this alone. We urge solar thermal installers to start their own information pipelines and reach out to the public and the press.
Another indication of the education gap is the finding that 63% of respondents believe solar energy can be used to heat water, heat buildings, cool buildings, heat swimming pools, and produce electricity. It’s wonderful that there’s a majority that knows about solar thermal applications, but if this were a school exam, it would be a failing grade. We need to strive to get those figures to at least a “C” (75%) by the same time next year. The more customers are aware of solar benefits and economics, the more sales will increase for these applications.
As for support for overall solar subsidies, including solar PV, 29% of respondents agreed that the type of energy most deserving of U.S. government support was solar. In second place, 20% chose wind, and 18% chose natural gas. Oil came in at 16% and nuclear came in with only 8%. Finally, coal scraped the bottom of the subsidy opinion barrel with 5%.
While solar is at the top of this broad heap, once again, we need to increase that support through showing customers and policy makers how solar is now more cost effective than ever. Eventually, solar subsidies will have to go away, but for now, subsidies for fossil fuels need to be reduced or eliminated to level the playing field.
What about customer decision dynamics? Survey respondents said that they would either be “extremely likely” (6%), “very likely” (9%), or “somewhat likely” (31%) to consider installing a solar water heating system in their own home. That’s less than half of respondents who might consider solar hot water.
The reason? As usual, it comes down to cost. “The cost of purchasing the system” (72%) and “the cost of maintaining the system” (56%) are the top two concerns for residents in all regions and across key demographic/partisan groups.
In conclusion, there’s a majority of support for solar hot water in the U.S., but as an industry, we must do more to build awareness for solar hot water benefits for homes and large-scale commercial applications, such as laundry facilities, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, apartment buildings, and restaurants.
The survey was conducted by phone from June 23rd through 26th, 2011 among a representative sample of 1,013 adults, 18+ living in private households in the continental United States. A detailed press release is available here.
Free Hot Water is a manufacturer and distributor of high quality solar hot water systems for commercial and residential applications. Browse our catalog of over 1200 products at www.shop.freehotwater.com or create an account to become a FHW certified installer.
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