"Photovoltaics benefits more than solar thermal"
This week, we published a series of statements made by executives from the solar sector. We close the series today with some opinions from the solar thermal sector, which now faces a new challenge as photovoltaics in combination with heat pumps starts to provide even less expensive solar heat.
Roger Hackstock, executive director at Austria Solar
Up to now, the solar sector has mainly built small systems. They don't always work perfectly. Commercial customers are not satisfied with such uncertainties. They want returns they can rely on – a guarantee from array builders. Few in the solar sector offer such services. The market for large arrays is not growing as expected. The collector market in Austria is shrinking, as it is throughout Europe. Lower sales and profits prevent companies from investing in new business fields and entering into risks. A lot of solar firms are fighting to stay alive. They lack the money and the time to invest in new things.
We have to put innovations first – despite the crisis and falling revenue. Solar customers want to be independent and have personal benefits because they can use solar heat to offset expensive fuels. We need new solar solutions that cost less so we can get the market going again.
The industry is losing interest in the search for full solar heat. Instead, we make do with what the systems we currently sell provide. But we need to keep looking for that holistic solution, especially because gas and heating oil prices will continue to rise. We have to tell our customers that we are increasing the share of solar heat so that boilers can be smaller and simpler. And at some point, we won't need boilers at all. Germany and Austria have enough sun if we properly spread it across the year. Every day, we waste solar energy when our collectors no longer feed the storage tank when it's already hot. Collectors have to run from the sunup to sundown, as with photovoltaics. We should also improve combinations of solar collectors and heat pumps. Low solar temperatures can be stored in solid building components.
Peter Gawlik, executive director of Sonnenkraft
Despite the rising prices of conventional fuels, the potential of solar heat is not nearly being tapped.
Heinz-Werner Schmidt, executive director of Tecalor
The figures for solar thermal in 2012 show that the German market shrank. This trend will continue in 2013. In contrast, the market for heat pumps is expected to grow by nearly 10 percent. Building services will increasingly merge to become holistic systems, with photovoltaics – not solar thermal – benefiting the most. The focus will be on more efficient air-water heat pumps. We believe there are excellent opportunities, especially for high-value split devices. The additional cooling function in compact devices – which already include ventilation with heat recovery, hot water, and space heating via an integrated heat pump – will become increasingly common.
Manfred Pletzer, executive director at IDM Energiesysteme
The heat market not only depends on energy prices, but also on the construction sector. And it is hard to assess. Nonetheless, we expect the market for heat pumps to grow. Heat pumps will increasingly make up a greater share of newly installed heating systems. Governmental policies will largely determine 2013. Remote control and diagnosis via the Internet will become more important, as will smart grids. (Crag Morris)