March 10, 2011

Solar hot water heater on top of Sen. Justin Alfond’s Portland, Maine home

As oil prices continue to rise an Environment Maine report finds that Mainers could cut oil and other fossil fuel use and reduce pollution through the deployment of cost-effective solar hot water technology.

“We have long had the technology and know-how to harness the zero-cost heat of the sun to produce hot water, while at the same time cutting pollution and putting people to work in our communities. And more than ever we have a workforce that is ready to install these affordable solar systems on roofs across the state,” said Environment Maine Field Associate Nathaniel Meyer, speaking in front of State Senator Justin Alfond’s East End Portland home, which has a rooftop solar hot water system.

According to the report by using this technology Maine could save more than 7 million gallons of oil and reduce global warming pollution. That’s the equivalent of eliminating the pollution from 27,700 cars on Maine’s roads.

“Solar hot water is one of the safest investments you can make – with relatively small upfront investments, the financial and environmental return is guaranteed,” said Phil Coupe, owner of ReVision Energy. “Maine is ripe for this technology. We get 33% more sun than Germany, the world leader in solar installations. On a sunny 20-degree day, a solar hot water system can generate water that’s 130 degrees – water that’s too hot to shower in.”

ReVision Energy has installed over 2,600 solar energy systems since 2003, and currently employs 35 people.

“Thousands of homes and businesses are already saving energy and money by harnessing the sun for hot water – like my house, and the Portland Boys & Girls Club,” said Ken Winship of Portland. “The return on my investment since I had it installed has beat out other investments, like buying fuel oil or investing in the stock market. It makes a lot of sense.”

In addition to reducing pollution that fuels global warming and contributes to respiratory problems, the report found that solar hot water heating delivers a variety of benefits to the economy:

• Solar water heating could reduce energy bills nationwide by $9.9 billion annually, saving residential customers 3.2 percent and businesses 1.6 percent of their current energy expenditures. By eliminating the barriers to solar hot water, policy makers can help provide homeowners and businesses long-term savings and protect them from the risks of wild swings in energy prices.

• The United States falls behind other first world countries ranking 35th for per-capita solar water heating capacity. Europe’s solar thermal industry employs 40,000 people and brings in $4.1 billion in annual sales.

“Not only would expanding these kinds of technologies create jobs and drive Maine’s economy—but it’s critical to our national security,” said Andrew Campbell, an Iraq war veteran and part of Operation Free. “Continuing to rely on oil means handing the keys to America’s energy future over to the anti-American governments of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and other countries that benefit greatly from our addition to oil. Solar hot water is part economic growth and job-creation, part environmental stewardship, and part national defense.”

The report: Smart, Clean, and Ready to Go: How Solar Hot Water Can Reduce Pollution and Dependence on Fossil Fuels, is based primarily on a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and provides conservative national and state-by-state estimates of the potential use of residential and commercial solar water heating.

Environment Maine called on state and federal officials to take aggressive steps to encourage the installation of solar water heaters on homes and businesses.

Meyer called on the Maine legislature to pass An Act to Reduce Maine’s Dependence on Oil, LD 553, a bill sponsored by Representative Stacey Fitts (R-Pittsfield) and Senator Phil Bartlett (D-Cumberland) that would set binding goals to reduce Maine’s oil dependence and ensure our leaders create a plan to help us achieve them. Fitts is the House chair of the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee and Bartlett is the former Senate chair.

“Working together, we can get off oil by improving energy efficiency so we consume less in the first place and by transitioning to clean, renewable, made-in-Maine energy sources, including solar energy, for both heating and transportation,” concluded Meyer. “It’s time Maine took control of our energy future.”