The UK could benefit from integrating solar thermal technology into district heating schemes, a new article has claimed.

Writing for the Energy Institute, Kathy McVeigh, managing director of solar heating systems firm CoolSky, argued that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) new £320m ($423m) fund to support district heating could benefit from following the lead of major European countries where support for solar thermal district heating is growing.

For example, the ‘Big Solar’ project in Graz, Austria aims to install 450,000 square metres of solar collectors for a heat capacity of 250 MWth, and will include heat pumps and 1.8m cubic metres of seasonal hot water storage.

The new solar thermal district heating system, which will cover an annual heat demand of 1200 GWh, will replace 80 per cent of a combined heat and power (CHP)-based system which runs on older coal- and gas-fired plants. These plants are due to close by 2020 due to age (for the coal-fired plants) and low European electricity prices (for the gas-fired plants).

For another example, McVeigh said Denmark’s solar thermal market grew by 347 MWth in 2016, largely due to use in district heating projects. In Europe, a Horizon2020 project aimed at increasing solar district heating uptake encompasses Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Poland, Belgium and Sweden.

In addition to the traditional residential and commercial solar thermal systems, McVeigh said European manufacturers, such as Austria’s GreenOneTec, are introducing new product ranges suitable for larger-scale district heating projects.

In the UK, though, an uncertain policy environment has resulted in market contraction for the solar thermal sector, especially for the installer base. Although global companies such as Kingspan, Viridian and AES are based in the country, McVeigh said uncertainty over the inclusion of solar thermal in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme has hobbled investment.

Last year’s confirmation that solar thermal would remain in the RHI was “welcome news”, she said, and although the sector has been “slow to react to the changed market conditions”, the UK’s decarbonization goals present a variety of opportunities, for example in the use of solar thermal for industrial process heat.

For district heating, McVeigh said solar thermal could play “an important role”, and could “fit perfectly with the UK’s strategy to decarbonize the heating sector”. The benefits include cost-effectiveness and, she said, the fact that “after the initial investment the energy produced is free, making it easy to calculate the return on investment over the life expectancy of the project”.

Source: Decentralised Energy