Ottawa Releases $9 M for Solar Hot Water Pilot

There is visible excitement at Natural Resources Canada about the announcement of funding to accelerate solar hot water across the country. “It’s going to be a revolution. It’s going to change the dynamics of the water heating marketplace in Canada,” said one ministry spokesperson.

The pilot program is part of the Conservative government’s recently announced ecoEnergy programs, initiatives meant to combat climate change and boost Canadian innovation. The program has several categories, including ecoEnergy Renewable Heat (which contains the solar hot water pilot), ecoEnergy Renewable Energy, ecoEnergy Biofuels, ecoEnergy Efficiency, and others.

The Renewable Energy and Heat elements of the program together account for $1.5 billion in funding, with the Heat portion slated to receive $36 million over the next four years. It is divided into two parts, namely a 25% rebate for commercial, industrial, and institutional installations, and pilot programs that will assist utilities, local governments, NGOs and buyer co-operatives accelerate residential solar hot water installations.

Natural Resource Canada’s website contains an estimate that 700 commercial and industrial buildings will receive rebates for solar hot water systems through the program by 2011. It also estimates that several thousand homes could receive systems as a result of the residential participation.

The pilot program is accepting applications from eligible proponents until September 28 of this year. Winning projects are expected to be announced in November. To be eligible, applications must aim to install systems on at least 200 homes, scheduled for completion by October 31, 2010. Also, no more than 50% of the proponent’s project costs are to be covered by government subsidies (including federal, provincial, and municipal).

Several strategies for driving business are being encouraged, including installing systems at no cost and charging a monthly rental fee, rent-to-own plans, or outright system sale and installation. Other innovative methods of distributing the systems will also be considered by Natural Resources Canada.

Similar initiatives are underway in several Canadian provinces. The Saskatchewan government has set up a provincial program that mirrors the ecoEnergy for Heat program, called SHIFT (Solar Heating Initiative for Today), and targets the industrial/ commercial/ institutional market. Ontario has implemented a matching-funds program. Commercial and industrial applicants based in Ontario who apply for the ecoEnergy Heat rebate will automatically by entered for the provincial rebate as well.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association in 2005 created the SolarBC project, which has the long-term goal of enabling the installation of 100,000 solar roofs in the province by 2020, of which the majority would be domestic hot water systems. This project installed 50 systems over one year in several communities, as a way of researching the market and opening lines of communication between government, industry, and the public.

Nitya Harris, coordinator for SolarBC, spoke on a recent conference call about how best to develop the solar hot water market in Canada.

“One critical piece of information that has been learned through the SolarBC project thus far is that reliable, long-term government programs must be put in place for the market to establish itself. Short-term, stop-and-go programs actually damage the industry,” she said.

It is something that the current Canadian government would do well to remember as the ecoEnergy programs roll out.

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