For the past 5 years solar photovoltaics (pv) has been capturing more than its fare share of media attention, government attention and, I would argue, market growth. But there seems to be signs that this trend is reversing. It’s not that solar pv growth is slowing down but that solar thermal is gaining the traction and the attention that it rightfully deserves. Solar thermal is a solid investment because it displaces much more fossil fuel per unit of capital invested. Thus, if our goal is to decrease the amount of money wasted on fossil fuels, solar thermal will be in the mix.
Here are a couple events that have not yet represented rapid growth, but I believe are laying the foundation.
- Massachusetts LEAN/ABCD Program. There is a great project in Massachusetts underway to fund several MA Projects. Not only are several projects being built, but one of the express goals of the program is to identify viable cost reduction strategies to make solar thermal cheaper in Massachusetts. Cheaper equals faster adoption. Read more on the program and the specific installations in two great posts by one of the two firms selected to manage, design and build the projects, Paradigm Partners. The Story of Solar in a Neighborhood Near You and Subsidized Solar Surprises in Massachusetts.
- MA Solar Thermal Rebates: As of February 2011, Massachusetts has also released a new set of solar thermal incentives. The program provides money for installations as well as pre-design study grant applications for large installations that require more due diligence.
- 1MW of Solar Thermal Capacity InterConnection with District Heating in St. Paul: Richard Carter wrote an amazing piece on the development of 1MW worth of solar thermal – he converted the BTU output of the panels to MWs – in St. Paul Minnesota. The system is 144 collectors, roughly 23,000 square feet of collector and can create 1MW of power. One of the main issues with solar thermal has sizing and storage. As this system is hooked up to the downtown regions district heating system, if the heat cannot be used on site it is sold into the grid. Awesome. One of the main goals of the project is also to monitor the performance so that accurate financials can be derived from the projects in comparison to solar pv.
- The Development of Solar Thermal SRECs. A few regions are expirmenting with solar thermal SRECs that will allow solar thermal owners to sell their SRECs just like the photovoltaic crowd. All solar thermal systems have monitors on them that calculate BTUs product and the conversion to MWh is very simple.
Takes-aways for Solar Thermal Contractors: Momentum is building for more support and awareness for solar thermal. Also, solar thermal has more ability to replace fossil fuels, as prices increase (gas is currently around $4 per gallon). IREC reports that the solar thermal industry is growing at a steady pace (around 10%) and that the outlook looks good as large installations are becoming more appealing and public support is increasing.