Sixty percent of the energy used in buildings in New York State goes to heat and hot water. This power heavy fact has been the the driving force behind a newly devised solar thermal energy plan that could eventually save New York State residents $175 million a year. Given that the last nation-wide energy bill was tossed out the window, individual states are now coming under pressure to come up with their own energy saving tactics. Thankfully, even in the face of ailing government support, New York’s new solar thermal plan is a shining example of how sustainable living remains a primary cause for most individuals. The state’s forward thinking plan will call for up to 1 million new solar thermal systems placed statewide, together able to provide a total of 2,000 MWth of solar powered heat by 2020.
Solar thermal energy harnesses the power of the sun to make hot water and feed steam heating systems. Much of the heat in older buildings comes from steam heat, so officials see solar thermal as a great alternative to feeding these systems. Relative to places like Germany where the solar thermal industry is booming — they install about 200,000 solar thermal heaters per year — the US has failed to see the value of such technology, often only perceiving it as useful in low-energy contexts such as for the heating of swimming pools. However, it is estimated that solar thermal heaters have the capacity to generate 50% of the hot water needed across the US.
Understanding the gains to be had with this innovative, yet simple and easily implemented technology, New York State will kick off a program which should provide incentives, educational opportunities, permitting improvements, research and development and installer training programs to encourage the installation of solar thermal systems. The program is expected to decrease energy for heating use by 6 million US gallons of oil, 9.5 million ft³ of natural gas and displace 320 GWh of electricity production per annum. With 70% of the systems coming from residential buildings and 30% of the systems from commercial buildings, the state estimates there will be a whopping $175 million in energy savings annually.