Three weeks before the ISH 2017 opens its doors again between 14 and 18 March 2017, the German renewable heating associations published their annual market statistics for 2016. The trend is clear: Low oil and gas prices have reduced demand for solar water heating systems (-8 %) and biomass boilers (-3 %), whereas the German heat pump industry can be more than satisfied with 17 % growth. The ISH is Europe’s largest trade fair for bathroom design, energy-efficient heating, air conditioning and renewable energies and takes place every two years in Frankfurt, Germany.
In spring 2015, Germany´s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA) introduced a performance-based incentive for solar heating as an alternative to the scheme offering incentives based on collector area. Recently published statistics have shown the new programme to grant higher financial support for about one-third of the currently funded projects. The others still receive funding from the previously established scheme.
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).
During the first quarter of 2016, solar thermal suppliers in Germany sold around 3 % more systems than they did over the same period last year. This is indeed good news after 2015 turned out to be another disappointing year with a 10 % drop in sales, adding only 805,000 m² (563 MWth) of newly installed collector area. The other good news is that subsidies in Germany have never been as attractive as they are now. It is the reason why the two German solar and heating associations, BSW Solar and BDH, launched the Solar Heating – it always pays off (Sonnige Heizung - immer im Plus) campaign, as announced in a press release in the middle of April – at the same time that the Solar Thermal Energy Symposium took place in Bad Staffelstein. The symposium is Germany’s major annual industry conference on the topic and is organised by the East-Bavarian Institute for Technology Transfer, OTTI. This year, the three-day conference was attended by around 250 solar thermal experts from research and industry.
The global solar thermal market went into another year of notable decline in 2015. With 37.2 GWth, the newly installed glazed and unglazed collector capacity in the 18 largest countries was 14 % lower than in 2014 (43.4 GWth). Between 2013 and 2014, the decrease in these 18 major countries – which represent 95-97 % of the world market – had been 15 %. The further slowdown last year was the result of diminishing collector area figures in China (-17 %), and in Europe (nine biggest nations down by -5 %). The countries with the highest growth rates last year were Denmark (+55 %), Turkey (+10 %), Israel (+9 %) and Mexico (+8 %). The chart shows both 2015’s newly installed collector area, broken down by collector type – flat plate, vacuum tube and unglazed collector area, and the 2014-2015 growth rate (excluding China, whose 2015 market volume was 21-times larger than Turkey, which ranked second). China added 30.5 GWth in 2015 of which 12.6 % were flat plate collectors (5.5 million m2).
Finally some good news from Germany, the largest market in Europe, which declined for four years in a row between 2011 and 2014. After a very sluggish first quarter in 2015, demand for solar thermal systems was increasing over the summer months because of the increased subsidy levels of the German Market Rebate Programme for Renewable Energies since April 2015. The number of applications for solar thermal systems in June and July was 31 % higher than in the previous year. The chart shows the applications submitted per month, with the green columns depicting 2014 and the orange columns representing 2015. And there is more good news for the sector: the announced energy label for existing heating boilers.
Source: Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control, BAFA
The third of December 2014 was a historically sunny day for the German solar thermal sector: On this date, the government approved the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, NAPE, which had been drafted by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The document lists a number of short-term measures to help reach the national target of 14 % of renewable heat by 2020 (see the attached document in German). The key measure is a tax rebate for the energy-efficient modernisation of buildings, worth EUR 1 billion annually. The German renewable associations welcomed the plan, but called on politicians to find a compromise with the state governments as soon as possible because their refusal blocked the implementation of a similar measure two years ago.
On 6 and 7 November, experts in development cooperation and solar specialists from all around the world met in Frankfurt, Germany, for the Solar Energy Technology in Development Cooperation conference. The two-day event by German conference organiser OTTI was held for the very first time and brought together about 100 participants from 25 different countries, who discussed the opportunities and the challenges of solar energy use in southern nations. The conference had a special focus on technologies and projects for solar heating, drying and solar thermal water treatment in new emerging markets – thanks to a scientific committee with a rich background in the technology (from left): Joscha Rosenbusch (BSW Solar, Germany), Joachim Koschikowski (ISE Freiburg, Germany), Werner Weiss (AEE INTEC, Austria), Bernd Hafner (Viessmann, Germany) and Stephan Gnos (NET Nowak Energie & Technologie, Switzerland).
Whereas Germany’s total collector sales are dropping, solar thermal companies see a glimmer of hope for big projects because of changed feed-in tariffs in the renewable electricity sector. So far, the cogeneration of heat and power has been the strongest competitor of large-scale solar heat for district heating and industrial projects. Because cogeneration had been a very attractive solution in terms of electricity prices, even a subsidy recovering all costs of a solar thermal investment wouldn’t have tipped the scales in favour of solar heat, a study by Fichtner stated in autumn of 2013. Now, however, cogeneration is starting to lose ground.
According to the German solar industry association, BSW Solar, and the German heating industry association, BDH, the country saw an 11 % decrease in newly installed solar collector area in 2013, bringing market volume down to 735 MWth (1.05 million m²). The analysis presented by BSW Solar Managing Director, Jörg Mayer, at the Solar Thermal Energy Symposium in Bad Staffelstein pointed most of all to a slump in the German market segment of solar combi systems for domestic hot water and space heating in existing buildings. The symposium, which took place at the end of May, is now in its 24th year and gathered 333 scientists and solar thermal industry representatives from the German-speaking region.
Photo: East-Bavarian Institute for Technology Transfer, OTTI