Flat plat collectors are made of metal, glass, insulating and joining materials. Typically copper, steel or aluminium is used for the absorber configuration. The sides and bottom of the collector are usually metal and insulated with mineral wool to minimize heat loss. The glass top is made of special glass to resist facture and maximise transmission of energy. In the future, a variety of materials and combinations of materials including plastics may be used to improve cost benefits ratios, higher temperature ranges and systems performance.
Solar thermal systems most probably have higher "first costs" than other kinds of heating systems. Also, the energy is not available 24 hours a day and not sufficiently during all seasons of the year. That means that storage systems like water tanks and backup systems are a must in all solar thermal installations.
“Replacing imported fuels with local jobs”, this slogan of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) sums up perfectly the advantages of solar thermal technology for a national economy. The six biggest solar thermal markets in Europe – Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece and France – already exceeded 34,000 full time jobs in 2007 (check related article here). With an annual average growth rate of 20 % that is 6,800 jobs more each year. In the boom year 2008 in Europe this calculation results in 116,000 full-time jobs.
Most importantly: The energy of the sun is endless, sufficient and free of charge. Using solar water heating technology makes you independent of the rapidly increasing fossil fuel prices. It saves customers energy, money, is clean and safe and it is a long-living technology with life cycles of 25 years and more.
The ambitious scenario of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) expects Europe will reach 0.7 kWth (1 m2 of collector area) per European in 2020, equivalent to a total capacity in operation in the EU by then of 320 GWth. To reach this target, a suitable support framework will be required and solar will then be widely used for both cooling and supplying process heat, though the majority of this capacity will still supply domestic hot water and space heating.
You have fast-growing independent producers here which focus on the production of solar thermal components only. Some of these companies are more than 30 years old, like the German Wagner & Co, the Israeli Chromagen and the US-American Sun-Earth. But the global market leaders today are newer firms like Greenonetec in Austria, the biggest flat-plate collector manufacturer in the world, which was founded in 1991 (turnover 2008: 117 million Euro). Find the ranking of the biggest flat-plate collector manufacturers here.
By far the largest solar thermal market in the world according to newly installed solar thermal capacity per year is China. In 2008, around 21 GWth (30 million m2) were sold in China, which was around 80 % of the world global solar thermal market.
There are a number of mature markets like Israel, Austria, Barbados, China or Cyprus where solar thermal is used by a wide majority of people for heating the domestic hot water and sometimes for room heating.