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Solar thermal potentials and research strategies

Strategic Research Priorities for Solar Thermal Technologies

The European Union aims at a fundamental transformation of its energy system to achieve a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions between 80 to 95% by 2050.

Today, about half the final energy demand is used for heating and cooling purposes. In future, the heat demand will be significantly reduced through behavioural changes and efficiency measures, e.g. by nearly-zero-energy-buildings. However, as heat is not only used for space heating in new builds and in
the existing housing stock, but also for domestic hot water and process heating, in 2050 there will still be approximately 50% of today’s heat demand.

The European Technology Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC-Platform) is developing concepts showing how renewable energies can meet the entire heating and cooling demand in 2050. Its vision document, published in 2011, describes the RHC-Platform objectives. Within the heating and cooling sector, solar thermal energy will play a vital role. Up to now, it has only covered a minor share of the heating demand in Europe, although it has the greatest potential of all renewable energies for heating and cooling. One of the main reasons is that the technological potential of solar thermal has not yet been developed. In the past, public budgets for solar thermal R&D programmes
have been relatively small and often solely focussed on demonstration.

In this document, the European Solar Thermal Technology Panel (ESTTP) of the RHC-Platform provides a comprehensive outline of the solar thermal technologies strategic research priorities and confirms their great innovation potential. If the related research is carried out, solar thermal will be able to realize its potential and become a major energy source for heating and cooling. We thank all the contributors to this document warmly for their valuable input and hope, that it will convince politicians, industry and the research sector of the need to increase significantly R&D activities to exploit the huge opportunities offered by solar thermal technologies.


Common Vision for the Renewable Heating & Cooling sector in Europe

Renewable energies constitute a basic pillar in the strategy supported by EU to reinforce the sustainable development of our economies and citizens' welfare. The main EU Energy challenges can be summed up with three principle objectives: reduce the greenhouse gas emissions - diversify and improve the security
of our energy supply - maintain our industry as world leader in clean technologies. These targets, highlighted in the renewable energy directive, are the basic components of the EU regulation in that field.

The European Strategic Energy Technology Plan provides a framework to develop new industrial initiatives. In this view, the Technology Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling is expected to provide the right impulse to ensure the deployment of future cost effective technologies in the renewable heating and cooling sector.

The current "Vision Document" provides a description of the potential deployment of the sector. The next step should consolidate the Vision with the definition of a powerful Strategic Research Agenda and a dedicated Implementation Plan. These major next steps are real opportunities for the Technology Platform to provide the right supply of heating/cooling applications which are expected by EU citizens
and economic actors. The Commission has endorsed the set-up of this important Technology Platform in November 2008 and considers it an essential forum that gathers the main EU stakeholders in this field.

I am confident that the objectives indicated previously can be met by the Technology Platform and that together we can make the difference.

Marie Donnelly
Director for New and Renewable Sources of Energy,
Energy Efficiency and Innovation
European Commission


IEA Technology Roadmap - Solar Heating and Cooling

Building on the energy technology scenarios and strategies to halve today’s energy sector CO2 emission by 2050 outlined in the International Energy Agency’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 report, the G8 has asked the IEA to develop energy technology roadmaps for the key energy technologies needed to achieve long-term global energy and climate change goals.
One of the key energy technologies which were identified is solar heating and cooling.

This roadmap envisages that by 2050, solar energy could annually produce 16.2 EJ of solar heating, some 13% of total final energy use for heat, and 1.5 EJ solar cooling, nearly 17% of total energy use for cooling. For solar heating and cooling to play its full role in the coming energy revolution, concerted action is required by scientists, industry, governments, financing institutions and the public. This roadmap is intended to help drive these necessary developments.


Potential of Solar Thermal in Europe

By Werner Weiss and Peter Biermayr

The European Union and its Member States have committed themselves to achieving a 20% share of renewable energy in Europe’s final energy consumption by 2020. To reach this target, the renewable heating sector will have to make a significant contribution since the demand for heating and cooling represents 49% of the total energy demand in Europe.  

In order to provide the European Union and its Member States with substantiated information on the solar thermal contribution to the 20% renewable energy target and its long-term potential, detailed surveys were conducted using a representative sample of five European countries and the information is being extrapolated to the EU-27 countries. Both the technical and economic potential of solar thermal technologies were examined for different applications.

Download: Potential of Solar Thermal in Europe.pdf (745 kb)


Solar Thermal Research & Development Agenda

The current "Solar Thermal Research & Development Agenda" was developed within the project "Solar Thermal Technology Platform" based on works of the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform, where several authors of this publication were involved in a leading position. You can download the publication in German only.