Wednesday, May 9, 2007

China to Push Use of Solar Water Heaters


The Chinese government is encouraging new buildings and major users of heated water--such as hospitals, schools, restaurants, and swimming pools--to install water heaters powered by solar energy, according to a recent plan to promote nationwide use of the systems. "It is time for China to scale up use of solar water heaters as the technology has become mature and cost-effective,"a top official with the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top economic planning body, noted at the International Solar Thermal Utilization Conference in Jinan last month. The official also said the government is considering a national policy to require installation of the systems.

Solar water heaters are one of the most commercialized clean energy technologies in China, with nearly 1 in 10 households owning one. A typical device, consisting of a two-square-meter collector with rows of glass tubes and a 180-liter storage tank, can provide hot water for a 3 to 4 person family at a minimum cost of around 1,500 yuan (US$195). In 2006, the industry had a turnover of more than 20 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) in China and provided nearly 600,000 jobs. The total installed capacity of solar water heaters nationwide has reached some 90 million square meters, or roughly 60 percent of the world total, Xinhua News reported.

The government hopes the expanding use of solar hot water will help reduce China's addiction to coal, the dominant energy source fueling the nation's stunning economic growth. Coal accounted for nearly 69 percent of China's energy use in 2006 and is also a major culprit behind the country's rising environmental degradation. By installing a total of 150 million square meters of solar water heaters by 2010, the country could save some 20 million tons of standard coal, according to China's mid-to-long term plan for developing renewable energy.

The integration of solar hot water systems into building designs has become a recent trend in China, with arrays of solar collectors sprawled across rooftops. Some large-scale projects in China are adopting the systems for use in high-rise buildings and new residential areas. However, the industry faces tough competition from traditional electric and gas heating systems and still holds only about 11 percent of the market share.

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