Starting into its fifth year, the SMEThermal has established itself as Europe’s leading international industry conference on the solar thermal sector. More than 130 decision-makers from 20 countries attended the one-day meeting that opened in Berlin on February 18th, organized by Solarpraxis AG, a Berlin-based knowledge service provider specialized in the renewable energy sector.
Solar thermal in Europe needs a strong long-term political commitment, then the huge technical and economic potential can be leveraged in full“, summarized Karl-Heinz Remmers, Solarpraxis CEO in his opening statement.
The event with a strong focus on solar process heat was chaired by Bärbel Epp, director of solar market research and communication agency Solrico. Together with Sun & Wind Energy magazine she presented the first world map of the upcoming concentrating process heat collector industry, based on a market survey conducted in late 2013. The surveys’ respondents agreed that low cost per kWh produced is much more important in the process heat than in the residential sector, and while this competitiveness is already given in many niche markets, solar process heat technology is simply not yet well known to potential customers and planners.
Numerous innovations and ideas especially regarding collector design were presented at the exhibition space next to the conference venue and during the exhibitor and innovation forum, including modular collector shapes of just 20 cm width, and collectors made entirely from plastics to allow significant cost reductions. PVT collectors, which combine a non-modified photovoltaic module with an uncovered thermal collector mounted underneath, were also on display. As there are no changes to the original module dimensions, these hybrid collectors can be installed with standard roof mounting systems. They are attractive when there is limited space available and the need to generate both heat and electricity. Certification and standardization schemes for these collectors, which entail the compliance with different standards, are currently in the making. Another highlight was the concept of an integrated storage collector by TIGI that has the water tank built into the collector, thereby reducing maintenance cost and saving space of an indoor tank.
India was this year’s partner country at SMEThermal. Delegates of the Solar Energy Corporation of India and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) explained the subcontinents’ targets and support schemes, as well as the vast potential for both concentrated solar thermal and solar water heating systems. High solar irradiation and the fact that solar applications substitute expensive fossil fuels result in very short payback periods. Gerhard Stryi-Hipp from Fraunhofer ISE introduced their joint initiative with German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Indian MNRE, which intends to promote the market deployment of industrial process heat applications in India, by increasing overall awareness and trust in the systems’ reliability, and providing reliable performance data and cost savings compared to fossil fuels.
Approaching new business models, the suitability of Energy Service Companies (ESCO) for solar thermal energy supply was vividly discussed in the final panel. ESCOs go beyond the one-stop-shop model of delivering turnkey plants: they directly sell the (process) heat to the customer, at rates that are ideally fixed at a certain percentage below changing fossil fuel prices. The risk is thereby shifted completely off the customer, explained Justin Schafer from Skyline Innovations, adding that each national market has its specific framework conditions for the viability of ESCOS.
Whether or not ESCO is the future way to go, Uwe Trenkner from trenkner consulting urged the industry to communicate performance and cost advantages of solar thermal systems in a simple, transparent and not overly technical approach. “Customers have an interest in long-term savings generated by solar thermal, but not in every parameter and technical detail”, he said.
The pace of technological developments involving collector and tank design, new materials and processes, as well as the positive feedback of exhibitors, research and industry representatives shows the relevance of this forum, providing unique insights and contacts into the solar thermal industry. The sixth SMEThermal conference will take place again in early 2015 in Berlin.
The Program and further information about the event can be found here: www.solarpraxis.de/en/conferences/smethermal-2014/general-information/