The capabilities and benefits of solar thermal heat has been numerous and the technology has been around for years, so why is it still not being applied to the HVAC industry, as well as the electrical power industry as an industry standard rather than a value-engineered consideration? Of course, the answer may be that the ROI is not attractive to building owners, and/or cheap fuel and electricity prices, and/or the first cost won’t fit into the budget. Each of these obstacles can be a reason not to proceed with solar energy, but we need to recognize that energy is not endless and certainly fuel and utility prices can be counted on to increase each year. Having said this, here is my suggestion for proactive and responsible application of thermal heat:

  • Health care institutions are in the business “over the long haul,” so why not get the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) to adopt and mandate that solar heat be applied to the list of applications noted below?
  • International industrial and pharmaceutical companies with facilities throughout the world should mandate solar heat applications to the applications noted below as responsible neighbors in the community where they draw upon people to work in their facilities.
  • Colleges and universities, like health care facilities, are in the business “over the long haul,” so the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) should also adopt and mandate solar heat be applied to those applications below.
  • States should follow Hawaii’s lead and mandate, at a minimum so that the plumbing code requires solar-assisted domestic hot water heating at least on new construction.

Now I know we live in a democratic society, but we need to get more serious about energy conservation and reducing carbon footprint both in the commercial arena and the residential arena by mandating and/or being more proactive and requiring solar heat, rather than simply considering it but then not following through. Solar heat is a very simple and cost-effective system, and we are being shortsighted by not considering solar heat as either an add-on option in a building program or as a necessary energy enhancement consideration for a mechanical system upgrade to specific applications. This type of installation is not complicated, and the layperson/home owner is quite capable of understanding how this system will operate in his home. Certainly, it is easier to understand than the home owner’s central A/C system and its refrigerant cycle. Heck, I even have to go back to the tech book to explain that system to others.

I believe we should mandate solar-assisted domestic hot water based on my own personal experience here in New England. The system on my house worked 17+ years providing free hot water for my family.

Applications which just make common sense for those facilities that will be needing hot water for 10 years or more:

  • Domestic hot water heating systems.
  • Process hot water heating water systems (especially those systems that operate 24 hrs/day, 5+ days/week).
  • Low temperature hot water system application such as water-source heat pump systems in sync with domestic hot water needs.
  • Open hot water or warm water systems that have inherent water evaporation, requiring excessive cold city water makeup be introduced and heated.
  • Energy recovery systems requiring year-round reheat applications that could benefit with boosting the recovery water temperature.
  • Demand-side management hot water heating that could benefit from solar-assisted heated water during the daylight hours and before the off-peak heating process begins in the evening.
  • Indoor or outdoor pools used throughout the year.

Solar thermal systems in general have very few moving parts. This reduces maintenance and operating costs. Another solar application that I believe should be a requirement, rather than the exception to the rule, is photovoltaic solar produced electrical energy. For a building with an unshaded roof and southern sky accessibility, solar photovoltaic should be considered. These systems have come a long way in their evolution and now offer plug-and-play components that can be incorporated into the building. They now have PV “shingles” and micro-inverters  so each panel produces its own power independent of the other collectors.

When you look at the overall cost of a building or a home these days, how big a premium is it really to mandate as a minimum, the domestic hot water be solar assisted? It is just pennies per square foot with regard to overall budget.