November 7, 2012
In an effort to grow the solar heating business in Colorado, in January this year the Solar Thermal Alliance of Colorado produced a strategic business plan - a roadmap - to grow the industry. By the year 2030 the ambitious goal is designed to bring the total installed capacity of solar heating systems to 2,500 MWth from the state's current level of just 150 MWth. STAC plans for 16,000 MWth by 2050. Their figures predict Colorado's related job increases will be 15,600 new jobs by 2030 and 24,000 by 2050.
Colorado is well situated to lead in solar thermal, both in climate and citizenry. Colorado is of course well-known for its prisªtine environment and Rocky Mountains; considered national treasures by most Americans. Preserving that wealth of natural resources helped inspire the nation's first successful citizens' initiative to create a renewable portfolio standard - Colorado's 2004 Amendment 37.
The opportunity for solar thermal in Colorado is vast. Today Colorado is home to 150 solar thermal-related businesses. And while Colorado spends $14 billion per year in energy, solar thermal accounts for only a fraction of 1 percent. For heating alone, Coloradans burn through $2 billion worth of fossil fuel.
Space heating - still barely on the radar - also offers Colorado an opportunity to lead since indoor air heating is the largest energy load for Colorado buildings. In residential spaces, when hot water and indoor space heating are combined, heating accounts for three-fourths of the energy consumption.
Colorado has a unique climatic advantage. Solar heating can provide up to 90 percent of the energy needed for heating water. And by combining hot water, space and pool heating - for either homes or buildings - 70 percent of the thermal energy load can be supplied by the sun.
Colorado's solar advantage is a result of the areas temperature swings, abundant sunshine and cold ground water, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Florida Solar Energy Center. Solar thermal performance increases in proportion to the temperature difference between the liquid inside the panels and the air temperature outside the panels.
Colorado is also home to a cluster of clean-tech innovators as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And Colorado's Renewable Energy Collaboratory is a collection of research, technology, industry, agency, and testing entities.
Based upon installation targets, the STAC roadmap estimates solar thermal sales revenue to increase from today's $16 million to $670 million by 2030. However, if the state can manufacture more equipment locally, local sales combined with exports could grow Colorado's solar thermal revenues dramatically. Yet even these numbers assume a conservative estimate of 3 percent natural gas offset by solar thermal by 2030.
The strategy the STAC roadmap lays out essentially levels the playing field between solar thermal and other energy technologies. The plan calls for a mix of increasing public awareness, rebalancing energy standards, resolve local impediments and developing financing mechanisms.
To help end users understand the benefits of the technology, the plan calls for developing better customer relationships and improving communications in general. The plan also calls for ensuring quality control with extensive training programs and continuing education classes.
Colorado's Renewable Portfolio Standards - which lays out the state's energy product requirements - does not include solar thermal, although neither do most other states. Solar electric and wind electric are included in Colorado's RPS. The roadmap sites this as an obstacle that must be resolved.
Like most areas of the country, local zoning and permitting requirements across jurisdictions for solar thermal are inconsistent or unclear. Creating simple, well-defined and consistent zoning and permitting will go a long way to expedite installations.
For example, Colorado's Fairplay community categorizes solar thermal as an appliance and does not require permits. Denver and other jurisdictions require a plumber's license. Vail dictates that all panels must be flush with the roof and at least two feet from any roof's edge.
Developing financing mechanisms is also key to growth. A number of factors have limited the financing of solar thermal, including lack of awareness in the banking sector, difficulties of measuring energy collection on small systems, inconsistent policy, and the near absence of solar thermal power purchase agreements nationwide.
The Colorado roadmap was produced by a team of hardworking volunteers, explains Laurent Meillon, director of Capitol Solar Energy, who helped lead the effort. While much of what was written charts a course specifically for Colorado, it can also serve as a guideline for many other states.