Federal Demonstrations of Solar Heating and Cooling on Commercial Buildings Have Not Been Very Effective

EMD-80-41: Published: Apr 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1980.

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The Solar Heating and Cooling Demonstration Act of 1974 mandated a major demonstration of solar heating technology in residential and commercial buildings by 1977 and the development and demonstration of combined solar heating and cooling technology in residential and commercial buildings by 1979. GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) program for demonstrating solar heating and cooling on commercial buildings to determine whether DOE had accomplished its objectives for the commercial buildings program. The review focused on the following issues: whether the projects on commercial buildings were demonstrating that solar heating and cooling are practical, how successful data dissemination has been, and whether the solar demonstration program aided in developing a viable solar industry.

Most projects funded under the program have not demonstrated that solar heating and cooling are practical. Very few commercial demonstration projects were operating as designed. In many cases, neither DOE nor the project owner knew how much energy the solar systems were contributing. In cases where data were available, many projects were not providing the expected energy. GAO analyses showed that most projects were not expected to pay for themselves within the 3 to 5 years generally required by industry, and most projects expected energy costs several times greater than the most expensive alternative fuel. The DOE data dissemination program cost for commercial demonstrations through fiscal year 1979 exceeded $13 million and its benefits have thus far been limited. It is doubtful that the information collected and disseminated through the DOE Technical Information Center is reaching much of the target audience. The extent to which the program has aided in developing a viable solar industry is unknown. GAO believed that it was doubtful that the demonstration projects had stimulated much additional buying because most projects did not show solar energy systems to be practical.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should: evaluate all solar demonstration projects on commercial buildings to identify the magnitude of each project's problems, what it would take to correct the problems, and what the likelihood is that the project will show solar to be practical; take action to correct the problems identified; take specific actions to increase the likelihood of funding projects which demonstrate solar to be practical; devise a means to determine the amount of energy being provided by each demonstration project; direct the Technical Information Center to expand its criteria for adding groups to its mailing list to ensure that more industry user groups are reached; and place greater emphasis on making user groups aware of the availability of data produced from demonstration projects. The Secretary of Energy should also develop appropriate measurements to gauge the impact of its solar demonstrations on commercial buildings, and, if appropriate, develop alternative strategies or options, including legislative proposals, for encouraging the widespread use of solar on commercial buildings. The Secretary should present the options with probable costs and impacts to Congress for its consideration in funding further solar programs.

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