Several Pennsylvania utilities and low-income provider agencies are conducting a renewable energy project under which solar water heating and photovoltaic systems will be installed on low-income residences. This is occurring because the state's utility commission included renewables in its definition of universal service benefits for low-income clients under Pennsylvania utility restructuring. Several Pennsylvania utilities have contributed by agreeing to allocate funding for the Low-Income Renewable Pilot Programs, under which these solar systems will be installed.
Since the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) had recently conducted the successful Solar Weatherization Assistance Program (SWAP) under which more than 800 solar water heating systems were installed on low-income residences throughout Florida, Pennsylvania representatives contacted FSEC in order to obtain information regarding the implementation of a sister program in Pennsylvania. FSEC provided program development input to the Pennsylvania Weatherization Providers Task Force, the Commission on Economic Opportunity of Luzerne County, and staff representatives of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The experience, guidelines and lessons learned from the Florida SWAP program were also shared with Pennsylvania program representatives.
FSEC conducted numerous solar information seminars and workshops. The purpose of these was to familiarize potential participating agencies with the various existing solar technologies, both water heating and photovoltaic. A variety of related topics such as impact of the use of solar on low-income clients, monitoring of systems, economics, long term maintenance issues, etc. were also addressed as part of these workshops.
In addition, FSEC developed an in-depth solar water heating training program for Task Force personnel. This one-week installation workshops provided instruction on the installation of solar systems. This included classroom presentations, hands-on laboratories, and the participatory installation of actual solar systems.
As part of the training program, three solar water heating systems were installed. Students were required to participate in all phases of the installation program. This included mounting of the solar collectors, roof flashing of pipe penetrations, system plumbing, controller installation, and start-up and check-out of the installed systems. FSEC staff and an industry-recognized Florida installer instructed the students on all phases of the installation. A majority of the students were already quite familiar with the required construction skills, having performed construction and weatherization work for various low-income provider agencies throughout Pennsylvania. Therefore, the emphasis was placed on the specialized skills, techniques, and installation methods used in the solar industry.
Examinations testing the competency of the students were given to the students at the end of the workshop. Florida Solar Energy Center Certificates of Completion were awarded to those passing the examination.
The Pennsylvania residence pictured at right now has a solar water heating system that is environmentally friendly, saves valuable energy, and provides economic savings for the residents. Raising families, incurring everyday bills and purchasing common necessities are all part of daily life that can rapidly drain a family’s budget. This is especially burdensome for low-income and elderly residents on a fixed income. A major part of the budgetary concerns are the recurrent and unavoidable utility bills. The Pennsylvania low-income renewable energy project will provide savings to those most in need.