Solar thermal power has been a key member of the renewable energy industry for years now, far outshining solar PV in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Taking the solar thermal industry as a whole, the main uses of solar thermal power are space and hot water heating (for homeowners and businesses) and, on a more industrial scale, electricity generation. It’s funny then, that when I have a conversation about renewable energy outside of the office, unless people have an active interest in solar power they tend not to think about solar thermal very much at all. It’s not as well known or as common as solar PV, it’s not as obvious to the eye as wind (those turbines really are hard to overlook), nor does it require huge, costly public construction projects in the same way that hydroelectric does. Personally, I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain to friends that solar thermal panels are very different to solar PV, or even that there are solar panels out there that generate heat instead of electricity. In other words, I’ve learned that unless you already know about it, solar thermal power can easy to miss.
Efficiency of Solar Thermal Power Too Good To Overlook
Thankfully, that is starting to change. We wrote yesterday about the usefulness of solar thermal power, both as a source of heat and electricity, but we didn’t really get into just how common solar thermal is becoming. In China, there are concrete plans in place to add 10,000 megawatts of solar thermal power to the grid by 2020. They’re doing this with concentrated solar power – the solar thermal version of a power plant. With CSP, you use mirrors to focus a tremendous amount of solar energy in one place. This energy is then used to boil water and spin turbines. CSP power plants are becoming more and more common right around the world, but they tend to be build in isolated locations, so people rarely even know that they’re there.
Speaking of isolated locations, if you decide it’s time for a change of career and end up, say, as a researcher in Antarctica for groups like the German Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, your base could well be heated with solar thermal power. The sight of solar thermal heating in Antarctica really highlights the capability and efficiency of solar thermal today, because if you’re at the south pole, reliably having heat all the time is pretty important.
Solar Thermal Heating With SunPump
Closer to home, solar thermal heating is going from strength to strength. In Europe, solar thermal heating has been popular as a way of heating homes for years now – it’s becoming as common as any other form of home heating, particularly in German (Germany really is miles ahead of the pack when it comes to renewable energy). In Canada, SunPump has been going from strength to strength, supplying homeowners with 24 hour solar thermal heat, rain or shine. With SunPump, solar thermal power has crashed through the tipping point of price, efficiency and reliability – key areas that used to favour fossil fuel so strongly. In just the same way that CSP power plants offer cost-effective electricity, the SunPump offers considerable savings on monthly heating bills, to the point where a SunPump pays for itself within just a few years and promises more years of savings after that. It’s a package that fossil fuel and electric heaters haven’t been able to match.
The potential of solar thermal heating is virtually limitless. With SunPump, solar thermal power has become one of the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest ways of heating a home, while CSP plants have the potential to leapfrog solar PV plants as the key clean source of electricity. As we progress further into the 21st century, it is (more than) fair to say that renewable, clean energy sources will go on to play an even more important role in our collective lives. If that’s where we’re heading, it looks like solar thermal power will play a key role.