California: Solar heating proposed as alternative to natural gas

By Tanja Peschel, Sun & Wing Energy Magazine

After a massive gas leak in a storage facility in California, solar thermal comes into focus as an alternative energy source for heating Californian homes. The administration under Governor Jerry Brown proposed an action plan to increase rooftop solar technologies and reduce the natural gas demand of the region. 

The Aliso Canyon gas leak refers to a massive natural gas leak that occurred in October 2015 in the Californian underground gas storage facility – the second largest one in the U.S. During the nearly four months it took until the leak had been plugged, an estimated 97,100 metric tons of methane were released into the atmosphere.

With the help of solar energy systems such as solar water heating, solar space heating and solar electric systems, natural gas use in buildings could be drastically reduced. Roughly a quarter of the gas from Aliso Canyon is used to heat buildings. If solar heating systems were installed on just 7% of the multi-family buildings in the Los Angeles area, this would offset the yearly natural gas demand for all buildings served by Aliso Canyon. Local rooftop solar energy technologies can help to reduce the dependence on natural gas and to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals in the near and long-term, while also preventing blackouts and voltage-drops (brownouts) in the grid.

“Aliso Canyon shows us that natural gas is not safe or environmentally friendly, despite the ‘natural’ descriptor,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA).  “Instead of burning gas to heat water and run power plants on summer days when the sun shines brightest upon our cities, California should continue to aggressively support solar technologies in Los Angeles and statewide now and into the future.”

The National Renewable Energy Lab published a report about the solar PV capacity of the United States of America and estimated that in California rooftop PV systems with a total capacity of nearly 80 GW could be installed. Policy recommendations by CALSEIA include the expansion of consumer incentives for solar heating technologies and better access to rooftop PV technologies for consumers of municipal utilities, since Californian utilities so far have not done enough to encourage and invest in renewables.