U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Mary Landrieu have introduced a resolution and bill pressing the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall Chinese-made drywall and temporarily ban imports of the building material, as worries about the possible effects of the tainted product continue to grow. The bill would ask the Consumer Product Safety Commission to impose the ban until it can create federal drywall safety standards. It is clear that independent, third-party testing and certification has extensive value in the marketplace, especially for products such as drywall, solar water heating systems and solar electrical (photovoltaic) systems. Independent, third-party certification provides not only protection for consumers, but also much needed consumer confidence. Even more important, third-party certification provides protection to reputable manufacturers, ensuring that lower quality products, often from foreign markets, do not compete head-to-head with Florida and U.S. products unless they meet the same standards. The state of Florida had the foresight to protect Florida in 1976 through Florida’s Solar Energy Standards Act of 1976 (§377.705 F.S.) which requires the Florida Solar Energy Center to certify that “all solar energy systems manufactured or sold in the state…meet the standards established by the center and…display accepted results of approved performance tests in a manner prescribed by the center.”
Governor Crist’s climate change agenda, many states passing “real renewable energy portfolio standards,” and skyrocketing electric prices have led to strong interest in solar hot water heating. Residential electricity in Florida moved from 8 cents to 10 cents and then to 12 cents a kWh in January 2006. In the last several months, the price of electricity to some consumers in Florida has reached 15 cents a kWh! The average Florida customer who used 1,250 kWh of electricity per month paid $120 in 2005 and $152 per month in 2008. In 2009 they may be paying more than $160. So, by doing nothing, the price has gone up $40 per month (33%) since 2005!
As interest in Solar Hot Water Heating has picked up there has been a significant increase in demand for collector testing and a result a backlog of new collector testing has occurred at FSEC (currently the only testing facility in the US). FSEC is already reducing the testing time through improved data acquisition capabilities, additional test stands, automated reporting and the consideration of provisional collector performance ratings. Today there is no backlog on testing of Florida manufactured collectors and the backlogs on non-Florida U.S. manufactured collectors and foreign manufactured collectors will be shortened substantially.
In 2008, 1,265 megawatts (MW) of all varieties of solar power were installed, bringing total U.S. solar power capacity up 17 percent to 8,775 MW. The 2008 figure included 342 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, 139 MWTh (thermal equivalent) of solar water heating, 762 MWTh of pool heating and an estimated 21 MW of solar space heating and cooling. FSEC directly or through our US DOE contract to provide SRCC certification certified all of this solar thermal heating installation (139+762 +21 ~ 1000 MW). This means in effect solar thermal heating provided one nuclear powerplant worth of energy to the US at a much cheaper cost than the new nuclear powerplants will provide 10 years from now if we even turn them on?
If you look at the Florida Solar Energy Center website you will fund the solar hot water calculator (http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/consumer/solar_hot_water/homes/calculator/index.htm). In the example on the website of 4 people in a home in the North of Florida with electricity out of the wall at 12 (15) cents kWh the levelized cost of solar energy is 6.5 (6.5) cents kWh and the internal rate of return is 17% (20%) with a simple payback of 8 (7) years. So if you have any money left over after paying the skyrocketing electric bill invest in a solar hot water it has greater than a 17% rate of return and it is certified to perform which is more than I can say about other financial instruments.
Jim Fenton, Director
Florida Solar Energy Center