By Jerry Brown
A group of solar-energy advocates calling themselves the Solar Thermal Alliance of Colorado (STAC) have proposed a roadmap for solar-thermal development they say would make Colorado a global leader in solar heating and cooling and boost the state's economy for decades to come.
Using what they described as conservative and pragmatic projections, the group said their roadmap for solar-thermal development could add more than 24,000 jobs and $1 billion in revenue to Colorado's economy by 2050.
"Colorado is strategically poised to seize national leadership in the solar thermal industry -- and the vast economic benefits that come with it," STAC said in its proposed roadmap.
STAC unveiled its solar-thermal roadmap January 24 at the Denver Housing Authority's Mulroy Opportunity Center, which uses a solar-thermal system to produce about half of its hot water.
"If you haven't heard about solar-thermal before, you're not alone," said Neal Lurie, executive director of COSEIA. "That's about to change."
"Solar thermal performs better in Colorado than in any other state in the nation," Lurie added. "We have a natural advantage in Colorado over other states. We need to take advantage of that unique competitive position to generate jobs and promote economic development across the state."
"This is a great opportunity not just to advance solar thermal but to advance our economy," said Tony Frank, executive director of CRES.
"In spite of remarkable progress with other forms of renewable energy, Colorado is noticeably behind in solar thermal deployment," STAC said in its proposed roadmap.
One reason for the lag in solar-thermal development, STAC said, is that "an exceedingly large percentage of people simply are not aware that there is more than one type of solar technology."
Most of the attention to solar energy over the years has focused on photovoltaics, using solar energy to produce electricity. Solar-thermal systems typically use solar energy to heat a liquid that is then used to produce space heating and hot water for residential, commercial and industrial applications. Through a process known as thermally driven cooling, solar-thermal systems can also be used to cool buildings.
STAC suggested a "Go Solar Colorado!" communications campaign to educate homeowners, businesses and utilities and increase awareness of solar-thermal energy.
The group also suggested the need for new financing mechanisms for solar-thermal projects. "Solar thermal businesses have not attracted the attention of lenders until recently,” STAC said, because of the “same awareness issues that face energy consumers."
And STAC said both state and local governments should create a regulatory environment friendlier to solar-thermal projects.
"Fragmented permit processes and installation requirements continue to increase costs among the state’s more than 200 municipalities, 74 counties and 65 utilities," STAC said. "Issuing permits for a standard residential solar installation can add up to 20 days to solar thermal project times in some Colorado communities, while others complete the processes in less than one day."
"Lack of focus on solar thermal deployment is the most glaring gap in Colorado's clean energy economy," STAC said. "Our vision is to make Colorado a global leader in solar thermal adoption, installation, manufacturing, and R&D to boost Colorado’s economy, generate jobs, and help build a sustainable energy future."