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Are Building Codes the Path to Solar Thermal?

If there is one thing we could change about the solar thermal industry in America, it would be the hesitance of people to get on board. There are lots of reasons to explain the less-than-enthusiastic response to solar thermal and other renewable energy solutions, but along with those reasons, we have to have some workable solutions. For example, do building codes represent a path to more widespread adoption?

Building codes have been used for generations as a means of requiring builders to meet minimum standards of quality, efficiency, and safety. It is optimistic to think that new building codes mandating solar thermal would fly in the U.S., but they appear to be working elsewhere. Panama is but one example.

SunQuest 250

Panama’s Sustainable Construction Standard

Panama has been making a concerted effort to embrace sustainable energy construction since 2015. Along with a National Energy Plan that sets out an ambitious goal of 70% renewable energy consumption by 2050, lawmakers have also created what they call the Sustainable Construction Standard Guide for all new buildings.

The guide is the result of a government resolution aimed at reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions in new buildings by 15% within the next year. Lawmakers are looking for a 20% reduction after two years. They believe solar thermal heating will be key to meeting their objectives.

Meeting the goals has involved Panama’s national government pushing local municipalities in the past to incentivize solar thermal for heating and hot water. They say financial incentives are supported by estimates that healthcare facilities can reduce their energy consumption by more than 5% while hotels could reduce energy used for heating by more than 19%. Hotels can derive at least 50% of their hot water from a solar thermal solution as well. Due to the world-class efficiency of our U.S. patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal panels, we have seen even higher fossil-fuel energy reduction at installations across the United States.

Unfortunately, some local governments have been reluctant to incentivize. New building regulations may take that option away. As the thinking goes, an unwillingness by local authorities to incentivize renewable energy leaves it to the federal government to force things through new building codes.

The Savings Are Real

The general mood here in the States is one that bristles against government mandates of any kind. That is completely understandable in a country that takes immense pride in freedom and independence. Still, countries like Panama are mandating solar thermal and other renewable energy solutions because studies have consistently shown the savings are real.

It turns out the average payback period in Panama is 2.6 years for hotels and three years for healthcare facilities. Payback can take between six and 15 years for residential buildings. This suggests that while mandates for residential buildings may be somewhat less advantageous for Panamanian homeowners, those same mandates are unlikely to harm clearly attractive for commercial applications like manufacturers, universities, hotels and healthcare facilities.

No, building codes that encourage the use of solar thermal for space heating hot water are not popular in the U.S. But that does not mean there is no viable way to incentivize property owners to invest in the technology. State and local governments are already actively incentivizing through subsidy programs to help cover the cost of solar thermal projects. As such, the average Solar America Solutions installation can be paid for within five years or less. That is a payback period our customers can definitely live with.

Solar America Solutions is proud to be an industry leader in solar thermal technology for commercial applications. Our patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collector panel is one of the most efficient and productive panels in the industry. If you’ve been thinking about a solar thermal installation for your commercial building, we invite you to learn more about the SunQuest 250™.


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