Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Does Solar Heater Mandate Pencil Out?

The legislature passed SB644, which requires a solar water heater system for new single-family residential construction built after January 1, 2010, and phases out state solar tax credits by 2010. It has yet to be signed into law by the Governor.

The cost of such a mandate will likely affect homeowners in higher housing costs, but does the extra cost pencil out? According to a piece written for the American Chemical Society titled, Expert foresees 10 more years of R&D to make solar energy competitive, "[d]espite oil prices that hover around $100 a barrel, it may take at least 10 or more years of intensive research and development to reduce the cost of solar energy to levels competitive with petroleum[.]" Chemist Harry Gray is reported as saying, “Solar can potentially provide all the electricity and fuel we need to power the planet. The Holy Grail of solar research is to use sunlight efficiently and directly to ’split’ water into its elemental constituents – hydrogen and oxygen – and then use the hydrogen as a clean fuel.”

How much money has the state allocated to solar research and other alternative fuels unique to Hawaii? Seems like such funding might be a better approach rather than mandates which will hit home-buyer's pocket books in a waning economy.

The American Chemical Society is a congressionally chartered independent membership organization which represents professionals in all fields of chemistry and sciences that involve chemistry.


Unknown said...

Equating solar heating with solar electric power production is like comparing apples to oranges. Solar water heating is competitive now. The quote used to justify the question (if you follow the link) is from Harry Gray, who's research is focused on solar electricity and solar fuel production (which is not quite competitive), not on solar heating, which is far lower tech, can be added to new homes at far lower cost than a retrofit, and has been cost-competitive (even for a retrofit) for about 20 years. Further, the article did not consider the recent spike in costs in the last month, which continues to increase on a much steeper curve. But in the final analysis, it is not what the oil costs in dollars, but what it costs in energy to extract the remaining supply. Once it take more than a barrel's worth of energy (its NET energy value after processing) to extract a barrel of oil, it will no longer make sense as a power source, as every barrel of oil will represent a net energy loss.

Hawaii Land Use Law and Policy said...

The point is that mandatory solar water heating is an upfront $5,000.00 tax on potential homeowners. The bill also ends current state solar tax credits beginning in 2010 worth about $2,500 in savings on purchases of solar water heaters, further punishing first-time homeowners.

But you’re right; photovoltaic cells are a different technology. Let’s hope that next session’s mandate is not for photovoltaic cells, which costs between $10,000.00 - $20,000.00 in California and likely much more in Hawaii.

The energy issue is much more complex for sure, that’s probably why a simple mandate was imposed rather than developing a comprehensive energy plan with input from stakeholders and experts.