Sunday, October 21, 2012

SOLAR HEATERS: Incentives Seek To Increase Usage

Government rebates and incentives have vastly increased the number of homes and businesses with solar systems in sun-soaked California, reducing demand for power generated by fossil fuels.

Now officials are trying to get more people to participate in the latest addition to the state’s 5-year-old solar initiative — solar water heaters.

The program offers $250 million worth of incentives to encourage businesses, apartment managers and homeowners to install 200,000 solar-water heating systems through 2017. The goal is to cut reliance on electricity, gas and propane to heat showers and pools.

Earlier this year, officials began accepting applications for a new solar-water heating program aimed at lower-income residents.

Participation in the water-heater program has lagged, though, in part because of declining natural-gas prices, according to a June report by the state Public Utilities Commission. In recent weeks, new TV ads have encouraged more residential customers to apply for the rebates.

People who have received assistance through the program praise the technology.

“We think the system will be the most energy-efficient by far of any of the options researched,” said Bill Lindborg, manager of the 272-unit Encanto Apartments in Indio.

Fifty-one percent of the rebate money has been allotted to the service area of Southern California Gas Company, which includes Inland Southern California. There were more than 800 solar-water heater applications through Aug. 6.

In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, there have been 27 different installations — three multifamily and 24 single-family residences.

Encanto Apartments recently installed two identical arrays with 72 high solar panels apiece. Each array will heat 3,500 gallons of water per day each, rain or shine, reducing the demand for gas-heated water by 80 percent and reducing utility bills.

The panels also provide shade for parking and pool areas in the apartment complex.

Rick Rothman, the CEO of SunUp Energy, which designed and built the project, called the system “bulletproof.”

“The pumps last longer and it’s a more reliable product,” he said. The systems are easier to repair, as well, he said.

Participating single-family residences can receive a maximum rebate of up to $1,875 and multifamily apartment buildings and commercial customers are eligible for up to $500,000.

Under the new low-income program, single-family residents can get a rebate of up to $3,750. Multifamily apartments and commercial customers can receive up to $750,000.

“We need to make sure these programs aren’t just available to middle-class and wealthy folks,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, the author of the 2007 law creating the program. “We want all communities to benefit from solar power.”


No comments: