Archive for April, 2009

Following up on my previous blog, I listened to the Solar Advisory Committee report and the commissioners’ response.  The commissioners had evidently previously charged the Committee to develop a bold plan to implement solar hot water in Sarasota county.  Larry Altman, the committee chairman, said “a public utility is the only way to make a significant dent” in the 100,000 solar heaters needed.  The commissioners had envisioned that one half of the homes in Sarasota county have solar within five years.  That would require at least 20,000 installations per year.  This, indeed, is the kind of bold thinking that is going to be necessary overcome the natural, human resistance to change.  At present, only several hundred systems are being installed in the county each year.

The report recommended three simultaneous initiatives: 1)create a public solar hot water heating utility 2) help expedite owner installations and 3) much more emphasis on education and marketing.  Altman said the up-front costs and lack of knowledge about the benefits of solar hot water appear to be the barriers to widespread installation.  He said fears about risks and liability must be addressed but sited the FSEC report showing how solar installations withstood the hurricanes of ’04.  The utility would own and install the systems.  Homeowners would get a bill lower than what they pay the electric company for hot water (solar systems would be metered).  The environment would benefit and local employment would increase.  He expected the solar utility to become self-sustaining and recommended that users of large amounts of hot water be first in line.  This report was only the first step.  County staff would follow-up with detailed assessments of feasibility, financing and insurance options to present to the commissioners.

The commissioners rejected the heart of the report.  A solar utility would overcome the primary barrier to wide spread installation of solar hot water; the up-front cost.  These public officials couldn’t see it!  They wouldn’t even give the county staff the opportunity to assess the feasibility of such a utility.  Water utilities are common functions for governments and the advisory committee planned to incorporate the solar hot water into the existing county utility.  This Plan deserves more attention.  You can view the proceedings here.

Sam kendall


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How can you convince people to heat their water with solar energy?  Aren’t people busy trying to keep their jobs and paying their mortgages; finding some kind of transportion to get to work?  There is a lot going on in our lives besides thinking about having a solar hot water heater installed.  Now, one county is trying to make a solar installation so easy that people won’t even have to think about it.

No one disputes the claim that solar can save a minimum of ten per cent on an electric bill and usually more than that.  What will it take, besides a government mandate, to get people motivated?  Power companies and governments are making attempts to move the population toward solar with a variety of rebates and tax credits.  But a homeowner still must pay the up front cost of the installation, which can be three or four times the cost of an electric water heater.

Sarasota County, Florida has formed an Advisory Committee to find a solution.  Their recommendation is to have the county pay for the installation and then bill the homeowner monthly for the hot water used.   The Committee wants the monthly bill to be less than what the power company would receive for the same amount of hot water.  A government run solar hot water utility!  So easy that homeowners won’t even have to think about it!

Sam Kendall

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