A recent check of the California Solar Initiative’s database reveals that there are currently 2,244 rebate-eligible solar PV installers in California. And on the solar hot water side? Only 374!
That lack of competition for solar water heating services in a huge state like California is startling. Despite the recent — and generous — CSI solar thermal rebates available in the California market, there are relatively few installers who can use them and legally collect the rebates.
To graphically show the solar hot water opportunity, let’s look at a map of eligible installers in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area markets.
There are 10 million people in the L.A. area with hundreds of thousands of homes and apartment buildings that have sunny roofs ripe for solar hot water. But just look at how few solar hot water installers are available for this market:
San Francisco solar hot water installers are grouped together more closely, but there is still very little competition for such a huge metropolitan area. (Remember, there are only 374 in the entire state!)
So, what’s going on here? Why so few solar thermal installers, despite the CSI thermal program and residential and commercial solar hot water being eligible for the 30 percent Federal Tax Credit?
First, like many good opportunities, awareness of the opportunity is key. Heating and plumbing contractors are the best equipped to enter the solar water heating business, but they aren’t aware of the lack of competition and they may not want to go up onto roofs. As solar thermal manufacturers and distributors, we need to do a better job at showing them the market opportunity, and we hope this blog post is a start.
Second, solar PV installers, who are familiar with insolation and roofing, also lack solar water heating skills. Free Hot Water is helping with this aspect by offering a brief introductory class for just $25.00 in the San Francisco Bay area. For more extensive solar hot water classes, we can refer you to several training programs in California, as well as other states.
Third, there is the perceived complexity of solar thermal. Like any trade, yes, there are certainly nuances to system design and installation. However, recent technology and engineering innovations have made solar water heating simpler than ever before, especially for residential and small commercial systems.
In fact, all rebate-eligible residential solar water heating systems in California must be SRCC-certified OG-300 certified kits. So, design is minimal and mainly based on the number of people in the home.
Commercial system design can be more variable, since it’s based on water usage and the building infrastructure. However, there are certain features that can be standardized and simplified. As result, we’ve created pre-engineered solar hot water kits to make commercial installations easier and faster.
In addition, our engineering department created a whole page of free online solar thermal design calculators that eliminate the need for new solar installers to reinvent individual solar thermal spreadsheets.
Solar thermal does make economic sense today, but again, awareness is low. While natural gas prices may be at historic lows, solar thermal still has a fast ROI for commercial businesses, such as multifamily dwellings, apartment buildings, hotels, hospitals, and nursing homes that use huge daily volumes of hot water for their residents, guests, and patients. Regardless of natural gas prices, a solar thermal system will significantly reduce their water heating bills.
Consequently, the opportunity for California solar PV installers to expand into solar thermal is there. There are great untapped incentives, the technology has become simpler, and the training is available. What’s needed is more public awareness — and perhaps more solar PV installers willing to expand their skills and outreach.
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.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.