Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Study Reveals Enormous Potential for Solar Thermal Technology

According to international energy experts, solar thermal technology could replace almost a sixth of the world’s low-temperature heating use by 2050.

Yesterday, Paolo Frankl of the International Energy Agency (IEA) presented a technology roadmap for solar heating and cooling at the International Conference on Solar Heating and Cooling in Buildings and Industry. The study found that a stable, long-term policy framework for solar heating and cooling should be a key task for governments in the coming decades.

The Paris-based IEA says solar energy has the potential to tackle climate change and strengthen global energy security, particularly when used in low-temperature heating and cooling applications. Clean, renewable solar power could replace fossil fuels used for heating and electricity for hot water and for heating buildings.

"The IEA's Solar Heating and Cooling Roadmap confirms the great opportunity that lies in using solar thermal to replace fossil fuels and electricity,” says Werner Weiss, chairman of the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Programme, which provided important expertise to the roadmap. “It rightly identifies reliable long-term framework conditions as the key challenge for the coming years. And, it does not overlook the role of non-economic factors that currently hinder an even quicker adoption of solar thermal energy technologies.”

Heliocol solar panels are successfully used in industrial solar water preheating applications.
Solar water pre-heating successfully makes use of low-temperature solar thermal technology to 
reduce dependance on fossil fuels and electricity. This large-scale, industrial pre-heating system 
uses Heliocol solar collectors.

Without decisive action, energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide will more than double by 2050 and increased oil demand will heighten global concerns over the security of supplies, says IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

“We can and must change our current path, but this will take an energy revolution and low-carbon energy technologies will have a crucial role to play,” says van der Hoeven.

Among solar thermal applications, hot water production and space heating are the most important. By 2050, 213 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) could be covered by solar energy, the IEA finds. The nascent market for solar heat for industrial processes could be the second largest with 171 MTOE in 2050. Solar swimming pool heating and solar cooling could provide another 45 MTOE. 

The IEA says it is calling on all stakeholders to work toward realizing the vision outlined in the roadmap, with a specific call for governments to take a lead role in creating a favorable investment climate by creating a stable, long-term policy framework for solar heating and cooling.

Sudden changes in available financial support have proven detrimental to the development of a healthy solar thermal industry in many countries. Therefore, the IEA concludes, economic incentive schemes should be independent from state budgets to avoid "stop-and-go.” 

However, support policies should not only focus on economic aspects, the IEA says. In many regions of the world, solar thermal is already cost-competitive with conventional technologies, but barriers, such as higher upfront investment and lack of trained installers keep people from choosing solar heating and cooling.

According to the IEA, more research and development could jump-start the adoption of solar heating and cooling solutions in emerging areas, such as heat for industrial processes and cooling.

Governments should provide the necessary R&D funds to support these developments, the organization says.

"We can only underline the importance of research, demonstration and development,” says IEA SHC chairman Weiss. “Our program provides a very successful framework for international cooperation in the research on solar thermal and solar buildings. By working together, governments can help achieve our even more ambitious goal: to supply, by 2030, 50 percent of the low-temperature heat demand with solar energy.”

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