The Solar Thermal Energy Platform, launched last week by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, unites over 700 member companies and research bodies across Europe to push for greater commercialisation of research and standardisation of products.
Although the EU is a leader in solar thermal technology, the continent currently represents only 10 per cent of the global market. Piebalgs noted that although it grew by 12 per cent over the past four years, the installed thermal capacity of collectors across the 25 member states stands at only 10 gigawatts. This is equivalent to 15.5 million square metres of collectors, a fraction of the EU’s target for 2010 of 100 million square metres.
Solar thermal energy uses lenses or mirrors to reflect the sun’s energy and produce heat which can be used for domestic water heating, central heating and drying.
The overall aim is to supply 50 per cent of Europe’s low-temperature energy demand. Key areas of research will include heat stores, collectors and solar cooling systems.
Piebalgs said the programme would play an important role in a,
“sustainable and competitive energy policy in Europe”. Solar thermal
energy will join hydrogen and fuel cells, renewable energy, clean coal,
carbon dioxide sequestration and energy efficiency as research
priorities in Framework Programme 7.
Gerhard Styri-Hipp, chairman of the steering committee of the European Solar Thermal Energy Federation, said the potential of solar thermal heating technologies has been drastically underestimated.
“Although applications like solar domestic hot water and space heating are already common in some European regions, the potential for further technological and market development all over Europe is enormous. Therefore there is a huge need for increased R&D efforts, especially in new applications such as solar cooling and industrial process heat.”
To date there is a very uneven distribution of solar thermal energy, with Germany, Austria, Greece and Cyprus having 80 per cent of Europe’s installed plants.
European Technology Platforms are bottom-up initiatives inspired and directed by specific industry sectors or technology areas. The objective is to develop and implement a common approach to develop each sector across Europe.