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What Happened to Solar?

THEN AND NOW: What Happened to Solar? ~ By Gina Philippon

Those of us who pre-buy our heating fuel eagerly await that notice in the mail or the banner hanging across Main Street advertising the per gallon price for the approaching heating season. It was the summer of 2008 when the price for heating oil was advertised by some dealers at or above $5.00 / gal. I can clearly remember the collective outrage, anger, frustration and fear that we all felt over those prices and the fingers of blame being pointed at government, politicians, speculators, big oil and OPEC. However frustrated we were, those prices were our reality and we had to find a way to survive with them.

At MCES we had been installing solar hot water collection systems for some time on a limited basis but the demand for alternatives to fossil fuel seemed to go wild that summer and the few years following. We were visiting homes, designing and estimating solar hot water systems as fast as we could. The demand was strong and sales were brisk. The evacuated tube arrays were big sellers followed by the Velux flat plate collectors. A well designed and installed solar hot water system could produce 65% – 70% of a homes annual hot water needs. Most during the summer months with some limited production in the winter. Federal Tax Credits helped to offset the $10,000 + cost of installing a typical system.
During the few years following that price spike, prices came down, leveled off and we all got accustomed to budgeting for our energy. As that happened, solar demand dropped to nearly nothing. The actual reason is unknown but likely is a combination of becoming accustomed to prices, fuel prices dropping and the advent of the heat pump water heater.

A $3,000 hybrid electric heat pump water heater can produce as much renewable hot water as a $10,000 solar collection and storage system. The heat pump water heater takes up less space, can be installed in one day, requires nearly no maintenance and currently Efficiency Maine is offering a $750.00 rebate while funds are available and eligibility requirements are met. Demand for heat pump water heaters has been strong for several years and MCES has installed dozens of them.

There are other factors that contributed to the decreased demand for solar systems. Higher efficiency factors for electric water heaters, high efficiency propane and natural gas boilers paired with indirect fired water heaters and on-demand continuous flow propane water heaters are a few reasons. If you are interested in saving fuel, saving money, saving the environment or a combination of all three, a heat pump water heater may be a good option for you. Call 1-800-890-7196 today for your no cost quote.