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 Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC) has just finished a market survey on the newly installed collector area per collector type over recent years. The newly added area in 2015 was 53,976 m² with a slightly higher share of vacuum tubes, which went up from 54 % in 2012 to 60 % last year (see chart on the left). After two years of decline, market volume again increased in 2015 by 2.4 %. “The study considered all delayed applications as well as market projections based on data received from banks and suppliers,” Rani Al Achkar, Senior Programmes Engineer at the LCEC, said.
The latest Portuguese incentive scheme for solar thermal energy proved to be a major failure: Launched by the national Energy Efficiency Fund (EEF) in May 2015, the call to support the restoration of solar thermal systems installed before 2005 received only four applications in the end. Additionally, 2015 market performance was still far from desirable, and the downward trend in sales continues. APISOLAR’s figures show a newly installed area of 46,134 m² (32 MWth), a 9 % decrease compared to the previous year.
During COP21 in Paris last December, 1,000 mayors and local leaders pledged themselves to a 100 % renewable future of their municipalities by 2050. The final declaration from 4 December 2015 reads (see the attached document): “We support ambitious long-term climate goals such as a transition to 100 % renewable energy in our communities, or an 80 % greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2050.” This crucial political statement gives new impetus to the international research task Solar Energy in Urban Planning (Task 51), which is part of the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Programme. The main objective of the task headed by Maria Wall, Swedish professor at the Energy and Building Design department of Lund University, is to provide urban planners, authorities and architects with the means of designing urban areas that will enable the integration of active and passive solar energy solutions which can cover a large share of the energy demand. The researchers organised two workshops in Stockholm in March to discuss with representatives from public bodies how to deal with the challenges of interdisciplinary planning processes when trying to retain the aesthetic quality of buildings of cultural and historic significance.
Illustration: Ida Brogren, courtesy of Borås Municipality
As part of EU project Fair RHC Options and Trade (FROnT), customers from the residential, non-residential and industrial sector were asked about the key points factoring into their decision on a heating or cooling system. In all sectors, solar thermal was the most widely known renewable heat technology. Among the around two-thirds of the interview partners who knew about renewable heating and cooling technologies, 96 % of the residential, 89% of non-residential and 79 % of industrial customers were aware of the opportunities of solar thermal energy. “That was a confirming result for us,” Stefano Lambertucci, Policy Officer at the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF), said. Awareness of solar cooling was significantly lower, especially in the industrial sector, where biomass and geothermal heat pumps received high scores.
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.