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.

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