Pace Quickens for Solar Thermal Energy in Europe

In the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation’s (ESTIF) recent publication, a Solar Thermal Action Plan for Europe, ESTIF proposes that by 2020, the EU should aim at reaching 1 square meter of collector area for every European — or 320 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of installed capacity. The plan calls for a mix of support policies: regulations requiring the use of solar thermal are recommended for new buildings and major refurbishments; financial incentives to speed up the introduction of solar thermal in existing buildings; training of professionals and R&D funding are needed for the long-term success of the solar thermal markets. The guidelines, useful for policy makers at national, regional and local levels, “will be valuable for the implementation of a coming EU Directive addressing renewable heating and cooling,” says Nigel Cotton, chairman of ESTIF’s Advisory Council.

Introduction Ten years ago, the European Commission published its White Paper on Renewables, proposing a Community Strategy and Action Plan. Since then, European Directives to promote renewables in the electricity sector and in the transport sector have been successful in kicking off substantial growth in these two sectors. However, the renewable heating and cooling (RES-H) sector has been neglected at EU level and in most Member States. Thus, the fragmented solar thermal development is not surprising. If all EU countries used solar thermal as enthusiastically as the Austrians, the EU’s installed capacity would already be 91 GWth (130 million m2) today, far beyond the target of 100 million m2 by 2010, set by the White Paper in 1997. However, this target will be missed by a wide margin, due to the numerous countries that are still in the starting blocks. We warmly welcome the Renewable Energy Roadmap presented by the European Commission on 10 January 2007, as it definitively corrects this misperception and fully integrates RES-H* into the European strategy. Regrettably, the Roadmap does not measure up to its own message, as it fails to follow the European Parliament’s resolution of February 2006, which called for an EU Directive to promote RES-H, including targets at EU and national level. This call is widely supported by a broad coalition of industry, environmental organisations, research and citizens. While the political debate at EU level develops, all Member States are urged to act as soon as possible to promote solar thermal in their own country. This Action Plan helps policy makers to identify successful support strategies. The analyses carried out in the course of the Key Issues for Renewable Heat In Europe project clearly show: Public support policies have had a strong impact on the successful development in countries as diverse as Greece, Austria, Germany and recently also France and Spain. The most successful countries have supported solar thermal over longer periods — thus avoiding a destructive stop-&-go of the market — and have implemented a coherent mix of measures, which address not one but several barriers to growth. Most of these barriers are directly related to the small size of the market. As soon as a critical mass is reached, these barriers vanish: — People know about solar thermal and find it natural to use it — Standard training of craftsmen includes solar thermal — Architects foresee solar thermal as a standard feature in buildings — Every installer offers solar thermal systems — Industry invests heavily into market development, R&D — Mass production and marketing drive down costs Ten years after the White Paper, the solar thermal sector is in a better position than ever before: Today, an established industry produces highly reliable solutions for sustainable heating and cooling. Solar domestic hot water systems are mature technologies. Combi Systems, which additionally cover parts of the space heating demand, are now widely used in several countries. Promising applications such as solar cooling and process heat, expected to play an important role in tomorrow’s energy supply, are slowly finding their way into the markets. At the same time, the need for a heating and cooling supply based on renewables has become more and more apparent. In a few decades, oil and gas will be too precious to be wasted for low temperature applications, which could be easily supplied by solar thermal. The clear and unmistakable signs of global warming highlight the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, a new and ambitious goal for solar thermal in Europe is needed. As a minimum, by 2020 we should aim at reaching the same solar thermal penetration on average as Austria has today. This Central European country has shown that it can be done. With more ambitious policies, a bigger goal can be reached: 1m2 of collector area for every European – 320 GWth of installed capacity in 2020. To be effective, European targets must be followed by targets and measures in each Member State. National targets are essential to make sure that support measures are conceived with a long term perspective and they continue for sufficient time. We hope this document will help policy makers at European, national and local levels to design successful policies leading each European country to a full exploitation of its potential for clean, safe, cheap and endless solar energy for heating and cooling purposes. Ole Pilgaard, President, ESTIF * The development of the Solar Thermal Action Plan for Europe was supported by the European Communities, as part of the “Key Issues for Renewable Heat in Europe (K4RES-H),” a project which aims at stimulating growth of renewable heating and cooling (RES-H).
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