A leading California lobbying group for solar energy has launched a promotion of solar water heating, saying it could help reduce natural gas prices and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And separately in San Diego, Sempra Energy's utility unveiled a 10,000-square-foot photovoltaic (PV) panel at a regional science center complex.

Environment California's research and policy center released its new report titled, "Solar Water Heating: How California Can Reduce Its Dependence on Natural Gas." It was unveiled at a press conference in the state Capitol where new legislation, "The Solar Hot Water and Efficiency Act of 2007" (AB 1470), was promoted as a way to further implement earlier legislation from two years ago (SB 1), the so-called solar initiative or "million-solar-roofs" legislation.

SB 1470 would create additional incentives for solar water heating, advocating dual solar PV and solar water heating systems for both residential and commercial customers.

"Solar hot water could save California 1.2 billion therms of natural gas a year, the equivalent of 24% of all gas use in homes," according to the Environment California report. The report said solar hot water technology is "a simple, age-old technology that is used around the world" with Israel having the greatest saturation.

Meanwhile, Monday Sempra's San Diego Gas and Electric Co. announced a partnership with the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in introducing the solar PV panel on the roof of the San Diego center. It will feed electricity directly into the local power grid and serve as the basis for what the utility said would be an upcoming interactive exhibit on alternative energy.

"As the first San Diego museum to install a solar power system of this magnitude, we're excited and proud to lead the charge toward cleaner air locally and help mitigate the effects of climate change globally," said Jeffrey Kirsch, executive director of the Fleet Science Center.

Environment California's chief lobbyist, Bernadette Del Chiaro, said, "California needs more solar power if we are going to solve global warming and lower energy costs. Solar water heating is an age-old technology that belongs on the roofs of the 21st Century."

AB 1470 was awaiting a vote Monday in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, in which Environment California pulled together a coalition of environmentalists and solar industry installers/manufacturers to dramatize the case for a stepped up effort calling out solar water heating for a specific push.

The recently completed report cited a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in which the effects of potential natural gas wholesale price savings were modeled in California, Oregon and Washington state. The study found that efficiency measures leading to a 5.1% reduction in natural gas consumption would be accompanied by wholesale natural gas price reduction of the magnitude of 27% and 35% in Northern and Southern California, respectively.

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