Federal Demonstrations of Solar Heating and Cooling on Private Residences--Only Limited Success

EMD-79-55: Published: Oct 9, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 1979.

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Pursuant to a 1974 act of Congress, the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) initiated two programs to demonstrate the practical use of solar heating and cooling systems. ERDA gave the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) responsibility for the residential program and placed the Federal residence program under the direction of the Department of Defense. The act charged the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) with compiling statistics to establish performance criteria for the use of solar energy. A study of the HUD residential program examined 20 operational demonstration projects containing 91 residential units.

The study revealed that the program had only limited success in demonstrating the practical use of solar heating systems; that solar cooling technology was not yet ready for demonstration; and that, in certain areas, the program could have been more effectively managed. Only 31 percent of the residential units examined were maintaining reliable operations. As a result, NBS could not perform its function adequately. While insufficient data existed to evaluate the economics of the systems for all projects, of five systems which could be evaluated, only one demonstrated a rate of savings that would enable the consumer to recover the cost of the system within an acceptable period. Because HUD did not adequately determine program goals and efficent strategies by which to implement the program, the programs grew much larger than originally anticipated; program managers were unable to determine the extent to which the program was demonstrating solar heating systems in enough geographic areas; and some promising solar heating applications did not receive adequate attention. In addition, HUD did not place limitations on the size of single family demonstration projects, and did not require builders participating in demonstrations to seek cost sharing opportunities with state and local governments. The program's deficiencies, coupled with the inclusion of technologically immature solar cooling systems in some projects, could jeopardize the future acceptance of solar energy systems as a replacement for conventional energy sources.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Because active solar cooling technologies have not yet been developed to the point where they can be demonstrated successfully within the time frames established pursuant to the Solar Heating and Cooling Demonstration Act of 1974, it is recommended that Congress extend the requirements for combined solar heating and cooling demonstrations without constraints. Congress should require the Department of Energy to inform the Congress annually on the status of solar cooling technology, and to provide an estimate of when the practical demonstration of these systems could be attained.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should: (1) direct project managers to undertake an evaluation of the technical and economic adequacy of all demonstration projects funded and require appropriate action be taken to correct the problems; (2) require program managers to give priority attention to correcting those systems which are being monitored so that the definitive performance criteria mandated by law are not delayed; (3) require program managers to establish goals for an optimum program in terms of the number, location, and mix of solar demonstrations needed, and evaluate the present program against such goals; (4) establish stricter selection criteria for future demonstrations which would allow for a larger number of builders to participate in the program, limit large demonstration projects which have little benefit, and ensure that such projects are reliable and economical; and (5) establish procedures which will ensure that cost-sharing opportunities with State and local governments are pursued prior to the funding of projects and which require certification by applicants that cost-sharing possibilities were pursued. The Secretary of Energy should (1) monitor the activities of HUD in this area and provide assistance where needed to ensure that actions are taken to increase the effectiveness of the residential solar heating and cooling demonstration program, and (2) require solar program managers to work with officials of the NBS to establish exactly what information is needed to develop adequate performance criteria for solar energy systems in private dwellings and to supply NBS officials with the needed information as soon as possible.

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