There is much more conversation about photovoltaic solar technologies that create electricity than solar thermal technologies that create heat. Yet global energy consumption for industrial heat is more significant than global electricity consumption.
Industrial heat and the possibilities of solar thermal
Industry consumes 32% of the world's energy, and 74% of the energy used by industry is consumed as heat. Currently, 90% of this industrial heat is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. In addition, global industrial heat demand is projected to increase by 1.7% annually until 2030, especially in countries with high solar potential.
Therefore, concentrating solar thermal will be one of the future avenues to limit the consumption of thermal heat produced by fossil fuels in the industry. Some countries have understood the phenomenon. China, which has serious pollution problems due to the combustion of fossil fuels to produce heat, has already invested heavily in the solar thermal solution (in order to improve the quality of life for its civilians). Furthermore, an ambitious development strategy plans to produce 10% of the industrial heat of the country with solar energy by 2020. Solar concentration technologies have been applied for many years to produce industrial process heat, but they can also be applied to heating and cooling, refrigeration, desalination and municipal water treatment. This versatility of solar thermal applications is another important advantage for the industry, which often faces several complementary needs in its processes.
Solar concentration technologies are now very mature. For example, there are solar concentration panels that follow the path of the sun, supply heat up to 350 °C, include intelligent pumping modules, are operated by remote control, and offer a thermal storage technology to be able to provide heat at night ... So little is lacking for this market to see its growth surge in an exceptional way in the coming years.
How to stimulate the growth of industrial solar thermal?
Currently, more than 500 industries have solar heat solutions for their processes, totaling 400,000 m² of sensors and mirrors. However this number could be much higher. Several factors explain this fact. First of all, fossil energy remains the cheapest solution in spite of its environmental cost. In this sense, measures such as the carbon tax, which raises the price of hydrocarbons by including their environmental costs, would favor industrial solar thermal. Similarly, minimum renewable energy quotas in the industry are also very good incentives. Many cities in the world like Barcelona have imposed such a quota in their building code.
Another limiting factor to the development of the industrial solar thermal market is the capital cost allowance of the facilities, which is sometimes too long. Programs of assistance and financial support would make it possible to overcome this drawback, but this takes political will. Finally, there is little visibility of existing thermal solar systems for industry, and industrial customers are generally unaware of this solution. For these reasons, this is why an organization like SolRico was born. Indeed, they have been actively promoting the solar thermal industry since 2009.
A very promising new market
Since the Paris climate summit, momentum towards a green economy is accelerating and companies are increasingly being asked to limit global warming. Cities are also taking a stand and imposing more and more measures favoring renewable energies. The building code of many cities around the world already imposes a fraction of solar thermal, including industrial buildings. In addition, many cities aim to be fully fueled by renewable energies by 2030.
So a whole new world market is emerging. For the energy sector, it would represent 4.3 trillion dollars, according to the commission for business and sustainable development.