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USA: Solar Heating and Cooling R&D Renewed

Submitted by Baerbel Epp on July 26, 2011

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In policy lobbying even a single sentence included in a bill is, in some cases, already a huge success. This is exactly the case for the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that has recently passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives. “The Committee supports ongoing Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) research and development activities within the Building Technologies Program”, is the key sentence in the report that accompanies the bill.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) explains that the language instructs the Department of Energy (DOE) to continue the work they are doing for the Solar Heating and Cooling Program, as the DOE’s annual budget request to Congress merged the Solar Heating and Cooling Program into the Space Conditioning and Refrigeration Program, leading to the possibility that the activities under the SHC would be eliminated.

The DOE SHC Program includes activities such as USH2O utility network, some funding for Solar Rating & Certification Cooperation (SRCC), R&D and could include a few “market transformation” projects, which aid in deployment. SEIA is confident that the quoted sentence ensures that the activities under the programme will continue. The bill, however, does not go into specifics regarding the actual funding amount. With the continuation of programme activities for FY2012, SEIA is confident that interest in the domestic SHC market will continue to grow. The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill will next be taken up by the Senate. The new fiscal year for the federal government starts Oct. 1, 2012. 

Another bill of interest to the SHC industry is the “Ten Million Solar Roofs act of 2011”, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, and is an updated version of a similar bill he introduced in the last Congress.  There was a hearing on the bill in the middle of July in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The intention for the bill is to remove barriers and establish best practices in making the permitting process for solar systems easier, thereby increasing solar deployment,” reported SEIA during the USH20 conference call in June 2011. SEIA estimates that the costs for local permitting in some cases increases the costs of the solar water heater by 30 %, and therefore welcomes Sander´s initiative. The only issue with the bill is that funding might be subject to annual appropriations.  With the political climate in Washington right now and a focus on the debt limit, tax reform, and cuts, it might be difficult to get sufficient funding for the programme.  
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