The latest R&D developments in solar cooling presented during a workshop in Madrid, Spain, on 11 April sparked great interest among the attendees from the international air conditioning industry. Held at the headquarters of the Spanish Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving, IDEA, the event brought together representatives from companies, such as Baxi Roca, Carrier, Fujitsu, Kaysun and Panasonic, as well as researchers from Task 53, New Generation Solar Cooling and Heating Systems, of the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Programme. The presentations showcased innovative solutions driven by solar heat or solar power. The experts agreed that solar cooling will be a market for both solar thermal and solar PV solutions over the coming years and will capture new territory outside Europe, such as in the Middle East or China. A current study on the Arab region concluded: PV cooling technologies are more economical than grid-driven electric chillers at cooling loads of 100 kWc, whereas solar thermal cooling should be used for 1 MWc cooling.
It seems paradoxical: Although abundant sunlight is usually associated with southern Europe, the most solar district heating (SDH) plants in Europe are located in the north, mainly in Denmark, but also in Norway and Sweden. Milan Rashevski, a Bulgarian architect from the non-governmental Institute for Zero Energy Buildings (IZEB), now intends to establish this kind of energy supply in his country too. “We have round about 25 % more sunshine than Denmark, so what works there should be possible here as well,” he said. With the support of Danish organisation State of Green, Rashevski and his IZEB colleagues visited some of the largest SDH plants in Denmark last year.
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).
After two years of slight improvement, the Spanish market reached 169 MWth (241,165 m2) of solar thermal capacity in 2015, which meant a 5.5 % drop compared to 2014. This is the result of a market study published by the Spanish solar thermal association, ASIT, in March 2016. The main reason for the disappointing sales figures was the lack of new construction and a poor performance by Andalusia’s regional incentives, which came to a halt in June 2015. The 2016 outlook, however, is another story: Spain has recently seen an upturn in the economy and construction segment and a growing number of unsubsidised systems. The Spanish solar thermal sector generated a revenue total of EUR 193 million in 2015 and provided employment to 4,800 workers.
In the desert in the south of Oman, solar steam is cheaper than gas-produced one. State-owned Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) commissioned Californian Glasspoint to install the world’s largest solar steam producing plant, Miraah, next to the Amal West oilfield. Construction of the concentrating solar thermal collector field of 1 GWth began at the end of 2015, and first steam generation is expected to start in 2017. The steam is used for heating the heavy crude oil in order to improve flow properties and make it easier to pump the oil to the surface. This process is called enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and the heat is currently provided by gas-fired steam boilers. The photo shows the 7 MW pilot plant of parabolic trough collectors enclosed in agricultural glasshouses. The installation offered promising results during the test phase.
A study by US non-profit organisation Clasp, British management consultancy Waide Strategic Efficiency and other partners has analysed the market potential of efficient water heater technology, among them solar thermal systems and heat pumps in China, India and the USA. The 176-page document Policy Opportunities for More Efficient Residential Water Heating shows the key differences between markets and policies and gives advice on policy measures to reduce the energy consumption of water heaters. One central recommendation is to implement energy efficiency labels, which would allow customers to compare different water heater technologies. No such labelling has been in place yet in any of the three countries. The chart shows the Chinese energy label, which is only used for gas combi boilers, the Indian label for electric storage water heaters and the US label for gas-storage water heaters.
The Austrian municipality of Graz is preparing for the post-fossil fuel heating era: On 27 February, the front page of national newspaper Kleine Zeitung (copies sold each day: around 300,000) read “Graz plans largest solar storage worldwide”. According to the news article, regional energy provider Energie Steiermark and Austrian solar thermal system supplier S.O.L.I.D conducted a feasibility study for a huge solar district heating plant called Big Solar – with promising results. The study and the news article both references the world’s largest collector field in Danish Vojens with 70,000 m² (49 MWth) as a successful example of how to undertake such a large project. At the beginning of April, Energie Steiermark confirmed the plans for Big Solar’s realisation in a press release about 2015’s annual financial statement.
The solar heating and cooling (SHC) sector needs to increase visibility on social media channels. This was the shared belief of the three major SHC institutions – the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF), the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Programme (IEA SHC) and solarthermalworld.org – which met at the beginning of 2016 to discuss relevant strategies. The group saw Twitter as an important communication channel among policy makers, lobbyists and industry associations – a tool which is also used by a growing number of journalists worldwide for their research. The institutions decided to campaign for harmonised hashtags regarding content related to solar heating and cooling on Twitter, in order to increase visibility and improve the search functionality.
Two solar thermal conferences have recently extended their abstract submission dates. The EuroSun 2016 conference, which will take place on the Spanish island of Mallorca between 11 and 14 October 2016, will still accept submissions until 24 April. Step-by-step instructions, including abstract guidelines and an abstract template, are available on the EuroSun website. The SASEC 2016 conference, which is planned for 31 October to 2 November in Stellenbosch, South Africa, extended its submission deadline to 18 April 2016. Here, abstracts of 400 to 600 words can be uploaded as PDFs to the conference page. One of several key topics of both conferences: markets and technologies for solar heating and cooling. The photo shows participants of the EuroSun 2014 conference, which took place in France in September 2014.
To have a solar thermal system on the roof of one’s home may be a good thing if it does work well. But the probability that solar water heaters perform as they should and as long as they are supposed to is higher when they are installed by real experts familiar with the best practices of the industry. But how is one to know whether an installer is a real professional? Certification may be a viable indicator of whether or not a plumber can be trusted with installing a modern solar thermal system. That is why certification is gaining importance not only in manufacturing, but also in other parts of the industry.