Solar Heat Used Rarely in Industrial Processes

If solar heat likes to gain more importance in the future, it should not ignore the industrial sector. Task 33 of the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Solar Heating & Cooling programme performed an analysis of industrial energy needs and looked for the potential of solar heat within the sector. The Task’s scientists found a huge potential for energy from the sun. The industrial sector makes up about 28 % of total primary energy consumption in the European Union. A significant share of the heat used in industrial processes is used at low or medium temperatures. About 30 % of the industrial's demand for heat is at temperatures below 100 °C and 57 % at temperatures below 400 °C, states the IEA survey. Following the assumptions of Task 33, Europe's industrial use of solar energy could amount to a market volume of 1 GWth per year, which would mean a 50 % growth with respect to the current, annual solar market volume in Europe (1.9 GWth in 2007).

But until now, the industry rarely uses solar heat. According to the Task 33 survey, only 90 solar thermal plants worldwide (without China and Japan) with a total capacity of about 25 MW provide heat energy for industrial processes. The production capacities of the plants vary between 10 to more than 800 kW. The majority of solar thermal systems operate in the food, textile and chemical industry. Eight plants in Germany and Austria are serving car washing facilities, while six solar-powered diaries can be found in Greece and Italy.

Cost figures, available for about half of the plants analysed, range from 450 to 1,100 €/kW. Investment costs in Austria and Spain are in the range between 450 and 700 €/kW, while costs collected from the Task’s specialists for Germany and Italy are higher in average. The survey was only a first step towards creating a data basis about the potential of solar thermal energy in the industrial area. "New and more complete studies are needed within the EU framework to assess the detailed potential at national and EU levels within different industrial sectors", says Task 33 partner Riccardo Battisti from Ambiente Italia.

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