The U.S. Solar Heating and Cooling Alliance (SHC Alliance) was just launched, with backing from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), to help the lagging sector get organized.

“Solar heating and cooling in the U.S. is something like a $250 million to $500 million industry,” explained Skyline Innovations Director of Market Development Mike Healy, the Chair of the SHC Alliance. “That is small compared to Europe, where it is a $5 billion dollar industry. Considering that heating and cooling is over half of all building energy consumption in the U.S., there is a huge opportunity.”

In 2010, the last year for which there are numbers, the U.S. installed 35,464 solar hot water systems and 29,540 solar pool heating systems.

The SHC Alliance now has “about 100 members,” Healy said. “But we don’t know how many people are out there in this business. Collecting better data on the industry is one of our goals.”

A larger goal, said SHC Alliance Vice-Chair and Sunnovations CEO Matt Carlson, “is bringing about greater collaboration and visibility for the solar heating and cooling sector.”

They have already started raising a quarter-million-dollar Advocacy Fund and have arranged with a research firm for a roadmap to 2020 for the sector, Healy and Carlson said.

“This is also an opportunity for us to emulate what PV has done so well and focus on the specific state policies that will improve the economics of solar heating and cooling,” Healy said.

Getting solar heating and cooling included into state RPSs on the Maryland model is one of his top objectives.

“In Maryland, solar thermal energy and solar electric energy are on equal footing,” Healy said. “They get the same benefits and the same SRECs. BTUs are converted into kilowatt-hours. I worked closely with Governor O’Malley and his staff, and the governor was adamant about having a plan that could be emulated across the U.S. for solar heating and cooling.”

The market, Healy said, will determine which is the better financial proposition. “Solar heating and cooling is especially viable in multi-family housing, an area PV doesn’t often get to. PV and solar heating and cooling can together hit almost all segments of the market and can provide close to 100 percent of a building’s energy consumption.”

The first meeting of the SHC Alliance’s governing council -- composed of Healy, Carlson, Treasurer Eileen Prado of the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation, and rotating members Les Nelson of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and Ole Pilgaard of Heliodyne -- will be Tuesday and Wednesday, March 5 and 6, at SEIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“SEIA encourages all companies and organizations interested in the expansion of the solar heating and cooling sector in the U.S. to join,” SEIA CEO Rhone Resch said.