Two large industry events in China over the last months have shown that there is great demand for discussion regarding the transformation of the domestic solar heating and cooling market. The Green Business Forum attracted around 1,000 solar thermal stakeholders to Dezhou in Shandong province from 22 to 25 September, and several hundred industry representatives took part in the annual assembly of the Chinese Solar Thermal Industry Federation (CSTIF) from 7 to 9 December in Kunming, Yunnan province (see photo). According to the latest CSTIF figures, the solar thermal market experienced a sharp 9 % decline last year from 43.5 million m² to 39.5 million m² (30.5 to 27.7 GWth), which reduced it to 60 % of the size it had had in the peak year of 2013.
The Danish town of Silkeborg now holds the record for having the world’s largest solar heating system. The SDH plant of 156,694 m² (110 MWth) came online as scheduled in December 2016 after only seven months of construction. Municipal utility Silkeborg Forsyning intends to use the harnessed solar energy to meet 20 % of the annual heating demand of the 21,000 plant-connected users. The solar field was divided into four subfields to make it possible to set up the installation and hydraulics systems on this irregularly shaped piece of land (see photo). The former record holder is another installation in Denmark, in Vojens, boasting 70,000 m² (48.90 MWth) of installed solar thermal capacity. Both plants were turnkey deliveries from Danish collector manufacturer Arcon-Sunmark.
The ranking of the largest flat plate collector manufacturers is headed by the same four companies as last year: Greenonetec from Austria, Fivestar from China, Soletrol from Brazil and Bosch Thermotechnik from Germany. But aside from the continuity at the top, last year shows what different paths some markets have taken. Whereas Australian-based Solahart, one of the pioneers of global solar collector trade, as well as Soletrol, the largest Brazilian manufacturer, have lost ground, several others – such as Sunrain from China, Hewalex from Poland and Eraslan from Turkey – were able to report above-average growth for 2015 and rise through the ranks. The produced collector area of the overall 21 companies added up to 4,212,462 m². The number was 21 and not 20 because the last and second-last spot were occupied by companies with equal production output.
The IEA’s Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report or MTRMR 2016 again includes a chapter on renewable heating and cooling – and it’s growing in size. The 282-page document published from Singapore on 25 October analyses on 47 pages the current and future market development of four renewable heating technologies: biomass, solar thermal, geothermal and heat pumps. The IEA began to add a renewable heating chapter to its MTRMR in 2013 – back then, it had only 14 pages. The authors of this year’s edition emphasise the fact that onshore wind and solar PV are the only renewable technologies on track for a 2 °C target.
The recent approval of Working Rules means that the Global Solar Certification Network (GSCN) can now accept membership applications. The reuse of test and inspection reports in different certification schemes will be possible at the beginning of 2017. The GSCN was developed in Task 43 of the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Programme to facilitate the cross-border trade of high-quality solar thermal products. The world map shows all the certification schemes which are already on their way into the GSCN – and more are said to follow soon. GSCN industry members can use a collector test report or a production inspection report from one of these schemes to apply for a certificate in another part of the world which is also part of GSCN. The procedure saves manufacturers time and money by removing the need for collector retesting or a second site inspection.
Last year, Chinese vacuum tube manufacturer Huang Ming internationally known as Himin Solar installed its largest system for solar process heat to date. The company said that it had set up a 9,903 m² installation in Shandong province in October 2015, a system which had since produced heat for a textile factory owned by the Ruyi Group. The RMB 12.46 million (EUR 1.66 million) project had been entirely financed by the customer, which had not received any public subsidies. Ruyi had had the plant built because of a lack of electricity. “The local government had restricted electricity supply to Ruyi, which meant that the business could no longer fulfil its annual output targets,” stated a press release by Himin.
While the solar thermal industry has had a difficult time in several EU countries, the solar district heating (SDH) community is still growing: 180 participants from the EU, South Korea and China attended the 4th International Solar District Heating Conference, which was held at quite the peculiar location this year – Denmark’s Legoland – and was organised under the auspices of the Horizon 2020 project SDHp2m…from Policy to Market. The introductory session of the conference was really inspiring. Thomas Pauschinger, Project Coordinator of SDHp2m, underlined how Denmark’s construction of plants in the 100 MW range was proof of the country’s solar thermal strategy of “think big”. Impressive results, even more so if one takes the statement by Kim Behnke, Deputy Director General of Dansk Fjernvarme, the Danish District Heating Association, into account that “the Danish solar dream started just ten years ago”. Denmark’s solar installations have become so famous that they have even been turned into brick models at Legoland. The photo shows the 13 MW solar field in Braedstrup, Denmark.
Despite being the most robust solar thermal market across North and South America in terms of growth (8 % YoY in 2015), Mexico is still struggling domestically to harmonise its quality standards for solar thermal heaters. The lack of understanding between local producers and equipment importers has been the main hurdle to legally binding and uniform rules. However, the process is ongoing and the market’s stakeholders expect a draft of the official NOM-027-ENER-2015 to be available for public consultation by the end of 2016.
Typically, the number of jobs in the global solar heating and cooling industry is based on general assumptions and fragmentary extrapolations. The authors who publish the two annual studies on these job numbers have tried each year to improve upon the database – with success, although they still end up with different figures. The Solar Heat Worldwide Edition 2016 published by Austrian institute AEE INTEC estimated that 730,000 people had a job related to the manufacturing, installation or maintenance of solar thermal systems in 2014. The study Renewable Energy and Jobs - Annual Review 2016 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) put the figure at 939,000 in the global solar heating and cooling industry in 2015 – 12 % of the world’s 8.1 million jobs in the renewable sector (find both studies attached).
Solar district heating has enjoyed increasing attention from all across Europe and China, triggered by Denmark’s enormous growth rates in the field. Until the end of last year, the Scandinavian country had seen 577 MW of solar thermal power fed into 79 district heating networks mostly run by municipalities. There are another 364 MWth in the pipeline, scheduled for the beginning of this year. To identify the countries with the largest potential for solar district heating, it is worth taking a closer look at the country-by-country statistics of the biennial Euroheat & Power publication, whose most current version is from March 2015 and includes the key market indicators. Euroheat & Power, the association for district heating and cooling, is headquartered in Brussels and has 11 full-time staff.