On 28 July, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded grants to six research projects which aim to reduce the costs of concentrating solar collectors. The initiative is called COLLECTS, which is short for Concentrating Optics for Lower Levelized Energy Costs, and focuses on the most expensive component of a CSP plant: the collectors / the reflector. One of the beneficiaries of the COLLECTS budget of nearly USD 9 million is California-based, early-stage technology provider Sunvapor, which is planning to supply the industry with solar steam solutions more cost-effective than natural gas-based steam boilers. COLLECT is part of the DOE’s SunShot initiative started in 2011.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has published new regulations on all-glass evacuated solar collector tubes and related storage tanks of non-concentrating solar collector systems. Indian Standard (IS) 16542 : 2016 describes the storage tank’s specifications, IS 16543 : 2016 names the ones for tubes, and IS 16544 : 2016 covers the ones for complete systems. To obtain the three new standards, a company or individual will have to purchase them at BIS. Once the government notification has been published, all three will become mandatory and require that each tube or storage tank should carry the standard’s mark in addition to the manufacturer’s trademark and the batch number or date of manufacture. A transition period is to be set by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). The photo shows vacuum tube systems on the roof of a block of flats in Kolkata city in eastern India.
Despite being the most robust solar thermal market across North and South America in terms of growth (8 % YoY in 2015), Mexico is still struggling domestically to harmonise its quality standards for solar thermal heaters. The lack of understanding between local producers and equipment importers has been the main hurdle to legally binding and uniform rules. However, the process is ongoing and the market’s stakeholders expect a draft of the official NOM-027-ENER-2015 to be available for public consultation by the end of 2016.
On 13 July, Arcon-Sunmark, the Danish large-scale solar heating specialist, officially announced that as the chosen turnkey provider, it was beginning construction on the 156,694 m² solar district heating system on behalf of the Danish city of Silkeborg and its district heating company Silkeborg Forsyning. The plant is scheduled for completion by the end of the year and will then be the largest solar district heating system worldwide.
German Vaillant has launched a project which has stirred controversy among installers: Online platform heizungonline.vaillant.de can be used by manufacturers to directly address those end customers who wish to shop online – and send them a “price indication” for a complete heating system. Recent discussions have revolved around the question of whether this is a help to installation companies or if it interferes with their entrepreneurial freedom.
The SoPro India project has scientifically monitored two solar water heating systems for a year with the aim of presenting reliable data on system performance (see the attached PDFs). The measured 20 % solar efficiency would put the ROI between 2 and 3 years, depending on the development of fossil fuel costs. The researchers from German institute Fraunhofer ISE see new systems offering “good opportunities for further technical improvement.” SoPro was implemented by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) in cooperation with the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
The German solar thermal market is still stuck in recession. Although incentives are higher than they have ever been, demand has not really picked up over the first five months of this year, according to the market statistics by the two associations BSW Solar and BDH. The total collector area sold until the end of May was again down by 5.3 % compared to the previous year, although vacuum tubes have been more strongly affected by the slump (-18 %) than flat plate collectors (-4 %). Installers are viewed as the bottleneck in the supply chain and an increasing number of solar thermal suppliers have run advert campaigns to try and reach end customers on their own. Solarthermalworld.org has already reported on the new end-customer sales strategies employed by Thermondo. This article describes how the campaigns of another German system supplier, Sonnenkraft, have changed over the years. The image depicts an advertisement for the campaign from 2005 (left) and one from 2015 (right).
Seasonal storage is a key component in the transformation of today’s energy industry. Besides storing energy in summer for heating in winter, it can also be used to save waste heat from the industry and to increase the electricity production from biomass CHP plants. Experiences gathered with the technology during case studies were summarised as part of the study Seasonal thermal energy storage – Report on state of the art and necessary further R+D, which was published by Task 45, Large Scale Solar Heating and Cooling Systems, of the IEA SHC programme. Together with the Guidelines for Materials & Construction on the two most common storage types, borehole (see the chart) and water pit, it provides a good overview of the current advancements in this field (all three documents attached). Additional research into the design of seasonal storage will be carried out in follow-up Task 55, Towards the Integration of Large SHC Systems into District Heating and Cooling (DHC) Network. Interested stakeholders have been invited to join the kick-off meeting of Task 55 in Graz, Austria, between 19 and 21 October (see contact details below).
Crystalline PV modules utilise only 12 to 15 % of the incoming sunlight, while the rest is usually treated as waste heat. Hybrid solar panels, also called PVT elements, will channel this unused low-temperature heat, as shown by a large-scale demonstration plant in Switzerland. The PVT system’s 1,300 m² are used to regenerate a borehole field in a Swiss multi-family housing area. Monitoring data of the system’s first year in operation between August 2014 and July 2015 resulted in an annual thermal yield of 330 kWh/m² in addition to the 163 kWh/m² of electricity produced by the PV modules, according to a statement made by researchers from the Swiss SPF – Institute of Solar Technology earlier this year. The borehole field serves as the energy source for the heat pumps, which supply hot water all-the-year and space heating in winter. Most probably, the recommendations that the SPF researchers made to optimise the system in a paper published in May 2016 will even lead to a higher thermal yield during the installation’s second year.
In 2015, the solar collector area newly installed in Switzerland shrunk by 16 % compared to 2014. Imports outperformed domestic production, and larger systems for multi-family and commercial buildings, particularly those with vacuum tubes, have gained market shares. These are some of the key findings of the annual study published by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (see attached study in German and French). Some cantons will completely halt incentives for solar heat because of budget restrictions.