Greece: How will the Solar Thermal Industry survive the Financial Crisis?
The solar thermal industry in Greece has not been as much affected by the financial crisis as other sectors in the country. A good case in point is Elitherm, one of the pioneering collector manufacturers in Greece, whose core business was floor heating products, piping and plastic window frames. “We had to reduce our number of employees from 150 to just 30,” explains Emmanouel Kastanakis, the owner of the company. The remaining staff is now concentrating on the production and sales of solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems.
“Demand in the solar water heating market is still OK,” confirms Costas Travasaros, owner of Greek absorber manufacturer Prime Laser Technology. “Market volume is slightly lower than last year – maybe around 5 % – but energy and money saving is still important to the costumers.” Moreover, Greek solar manufacturers are export-oriented, which offers them a wider distribution base. Only companies whose core business is selling heating equipment are experiencing financial problems, because the building sector is down.
This brings us back to the case of Elitherm, which the owner of the company explained in detail in the German daily newspaper TAZ. “Before 2008, the building sector was booming and most deliveries were paid for with post-dated personal checks, which could be cashed in only at a later date,” explains Kastanakis. Liquidity was stretched and for a while, everything went well. Two years ago, the first cheques returned unpaid. “In the end, we were stuck with bounced cheques totalling EUR 3 million. According to TAZ information, these uncovered checks added up to EUR 10 billion across the whole country. Actually, Kastanakis thought he had taken precautions by signing a special financing insurance. But until today, the institution is refusing to pay and keeps him fighting before court for the lost millions.
The Greek solar thermal market is one of the most mature markets in Europe. About an average of 0.3 m2 are installed in the country per inhabitant. The newly installed collector area per year amounts to around 200,000 m2. The market is dominated by flat plate collectors (99 % market share), which are mainly a product of domestic manufacturers: The import rate of collectors among the newly installed collector area is estimated at only 5 %. The manufacturers are organised in the Greek Solar Industry Association EBHE, which has 24 permanent members.