Video: Solar Thermal Perspectives Roundtable

The Ancient Greeks and Romans understood the value of solar for heating — the two societies oriented entire cities to maximize sun exposure during winter months. Today, we orient houses any way we please, ignoring the value of the sun for heating (and cooling) applications.

The same is true for water heating. From the late 1800’s to the mid-1920’s, solar hot water systems were extremely popular in western U.S. states, with some towns in California heating a third of residential hot water with such systems. In the 1940’s, half of Florida’s population heated their water with the sun.

Why all this recognition of the importance and simplicity of solar thermal throughout history? Because in each of these cases, they were driven to use the sun for heat because of the scarcity of fuels like wood and natural gas. But also in each of these cases, solar thermal heating was replaced because of the availability of cheaper fuels.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the nation was again swept by a solar thermal boom. But a lack of quality standards for systems combined with the drop in fossil energy prices caused yet another drop in interest.

Today, as concerns over the environmental impact and availability of oil and natural gas rise, the industry is again starting to see rapid market growth. After the mid-1980’s, the industry was putting around 6,000 solar hot water systems online a year. Since 2006, companies around the country have seen the installation of 25,000-30,000 systems a year.

Industry professionals are trying to ensure this new growth continues in a sustainable way by focusing on increasing quality standards, training a qualified workforce and educating the public about the benefits of various solar thermal technologies.

In this solar thermal roundtable, we’ll talk with a group of seasoned solar thermal professionals about technological and political trends here in the U.S. and internationally. Our guests include: Bob Fisher, vice president of business development at EnerWorks; Chuck Marken, technical editor of solar thermal systems at Home Power Magazine; and Ed Murray, president of Aztec Solar.

Watch the video below to learn more about the issues that the solar thermal industry is facing today.

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I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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