Denmark’s success story in solar district heating, with 2016 having been another record year which almost doubled newly installed collector area to around 500,000 m², showcases the large potential of this type of application across Europe. Cost cuts in the supply chain are key: Two vital factors are fast installation and less hydraulic work on site. The answer by manufacturers to these challenges has been to design large-scale prefabricated collectors. Suppliers of vacuum tube collectors offer modular designs for easy mounting of collectors above 10 m²; large flat plate versions come as one piece and certified by Solar Keymark. The yearly market surveys by German magazine Sonne Wind & Wärme show that the number of certified flat plate collector panels above 10 m² of gross collector area has increased in Europe in recent years. As of 29 March 2017, the magazine’s online collector database listed 62 models from eight brands compared to 20 types of collectors in October 2015.
The German solar thermal market has shrunk yet again. The figures for 2012 show a 9% drop in sales compared to 2011. This year has been off to a very slow start as well: In the first quarter of 2013, collector area sales were down by 19% compared to the same period last year, according to the BDH/BSI statistics. The industry seems to finally wake up to the harsh reality, conceding that something is fundamentally wrong with the market’s development. Signs of a wake-up call were quite apparent at the yearly Solar Thermal Energy Symposium, which took place at the end of April and had been organised by the German East-Bavarian Institute for Technology Transfer, OTTI. This time, there was none of the usual talk about being patient and letting the high oil price do its work. At the start of the event, representatives from associations, scientific institutes and the Federal Environment Ministry spoke openly about the industry’s home-grown problems.
The growth of the German solar thermal market is coming to halt – or even worse: The market statistics of the solar industry association BSW-Solar and the heating industry association BDH (BDH/BSI statistics) show a strong decrease during the summer months. Photo: Bärbel Epp