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.

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