In late October 2010, utility Lakeland Electric in Florida and California-based renewable energy service company Regenesis Power launched a new programme for the promotion of solar water heaters. The Lakeland Solar Hot Water Service offers homeowners the possibility to purchase the energy a system generates for a monthly fee, which is comparable to the monthly electricity costs for a family of four. The 2011 target is to install 1,500 solar water heaters.
The service focuses on residential customers who require average amounts of hot water and prefer not to purchase their own solar heaters. The only cost to the customer consists of a 20-year fixed, monthly energy fee of USD 34.95. This rate is comparable to, and often less than, the current cost of water heated by electricity or propane for households of four or more. Programmes designed for smaller households are going to be introduced this year. In addition to a fixed price plan, the customer receives other benefits, such as no up-front costs, additional hot water storage, zero maintenance costs, a reliable supply and the option to purchase the system. To obtain a solar hot water heater, the applicant must be a Lakeland Electric customer, must own the house, and part of the roof must face south and be unobstructed.
The Regenesis Model was first envisaged over 25 years ago by Dell Jones, one of the founders of Regenesis Power, a renewable energy service company which owns and operates solar assets in the United States. After installing its first solar systems, Lakeland Electric used the last eleven years as a pilot phase to test system performance, and integrate the metering and billing into their customer's billing systems. Over that time, the number of installations grew to a total of 60.
In the summer of 2009, Lakeland awarded a 30-year contract to Regenesis Power, which would finance the solar hot water systems for customers in Lakeland Electric’s service territory and take care of all repairs, maintenance intervals and replacements of tanks, solar collectors and other parts. “In late October of 2010, we began the Lakeland Solar Hot Water Service, replacing the Lakeland Electric pilot programme with the Regenesis Model,” explains Dell Jones, Vice President Renewable Project Development at Regenesis. “After a sluggish holiday period, we have had 86 active customers as of the first week of January, and we’re anticipating 1,500 installations for 2011. The total over 5 years should be 8,000 to 10,000 installations representing about 27 MWth of solar capacity.”
Installing the solar water heater at the customer’s home happens within two weeks. As part of the service, a new 80-gallon hot water tank is installed and maintained. An electric element inside the tank guarantees the required water temperature. In the sunshine state of Florida, the initiators of the project calculate with a solar coverage of 80% of the annual hot water demand of a family.
Photo: Regenesis Power
Other utilities have meanwhile started to show an interest in the Regenesis service model. “Currently, we have a contract with the State of Wisconsin to operate a similar programme for public facilities, such as university dormitories, prisons, and process heat,” reports Jones. “There are more than 15 utilities and government bodies we are in discussion with in various stages. We expect several adaptors in 2011 and believe this first-of-its-kind programme will be followed with anticipation, so that the Regenesis Model can achieve more systems, with a greater MWth capacity, for the lower cost per MWhth in a shorter time period than other renewable energy business models.”
As Florida’s third largest public power utility, Lakeland Electric provides electricity to more than 100,000 customers. The company is part of USH2O, a group of utilities cooperating in solar water heating, and solar heating and cooling development.
This text was written by Stephanie Banse, a German journalist specialised on solar thermal technology. (firstname.lastname@example.org)