Q&A With Les Nelson, Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association

Q&A With Les Nelson, Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association

SolarAccess.com: In the big picture of Renewable Energy and specifically solar, what role is solar pool heating playing in California (or nationwide) compared to PV? Les Nelson: Solar swimming pool heating systems are very cost effective as compared with conventional pool heating technologies, which are primarily natural gas fired heaters and also electric heat pumps which are used in some areas of the country. When solar is used to replace an existing conventional heating system, the cost of the initial investment can often be returned in the form of energy savings in a 2 to 4 year time range. Last year, approximately 35,000 solar pool heating systems were installed in the US. PV is playing an increasingly important role in California, in that it is a technology which offsets peak demand for electricity, which is a key issue in California, and it is a technology which consumers are increasingly willing to invest in. Having your own generating system on your property is a concept that motivates many purchasers. SA: How will the Zero Energy Homes (ZEH) program benefit from the Bush Administration’s latest energy budget? Is the budget good news for ZEH program? How important is the ZEH program in the RE industry? In California? LN: The new administration has endorsed the concept of Zero Energy Homes (and, in the larger sense, Zero Energy Buildings in general) by proposing a budget which would significantly increase Department of Energy investment in this area. Although Congress has not finalized the energy budget as of yet, there appears to be a significant preponderance of supporters for increased work on ZEH/ZEB activities. One compelling point to consider is that many forecasts about the availability of fossil fuels going forward suggest that there is a 20 to 50 year supply remaining. Buildings constructed today are designed to last up to 100 years. This will sooner or later be a wake up call, both for the building industry and for the nation as a whole. Getting started sooner would be the prudent course of action. For California, many energy experts are currently warning about the ubiquitous reliance on natural gas fired electrical generating facilities in the state. Zero Energy Homes and Buildings which reduce the consumption of electricity generated by natural gas facilities, and the consumption of natural gas directly for water heating purposes, are the best sustainable solutions for this non-sustainable problem available today. SA: What is the most important piece of Solar related legislation being debated or proposed right now in California? Nationwide? What should be in the public debate? LN: For California, AB 58 (Assembly Member Fred Keeley) will eliminate a sunset provision for California’s net metering law (Public Utilities Code Section 2827), while incorporating important consumer protection measures. AB 1881 (Assembly Member Anthony Pescetti) will augment existing law requiring that solar technologies be installed on state-owned buildings. Nationally, a residential tax credit for solar energy systems which has been in the works for several years is prominent and important in the minds of many in the industry. However, a provision which would make all systems installed in calendar year 2002 is an important aspect of the proposed credit which has not yet been finalized. For more information about how to support passage of the tax credit contact Glenn Hamer, Executive Director of the Solar Energy Industries Association at (202) 628-7745 or ghamer@seia.org SA: Will wind overshadow solar in the coming years? Wind and solar have similar benefits in many respects, and the wind industry has done a great job in recent years by increasing generating capacity around the world, however it is by nature a variable resource when considered from a time of day perspective. While there is some small scale distributed generation ownership of wind systems today, the vast majority consists of larger scale, central station generation fields. Solar has both on-peak generation and distributed generation attributes, coupled with a predominance of customer-owned facilities which serve on-site load. This will likely lead to a co-existence in related, mostly discrete, but certainly growing markets for both renewable technologies for the foreseeable future.
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