By 2009 there were 174,000 MW of solar thermal collectors

The report “Solar Thermal Power Report” describes solar thermal energy technology in its various applications. Although concentred solar power (CSP) generation is probably better known, solar thermal (ST) collectors employ a much lower level of technology and convert far more of the sun’s energy into useful heat. Perhaps least well known and in its infancy, but a technology of the future, is ST cooling. The report describes the various technologies: collectors, receivers, heat storage systems and energy conversion units.

ST collectors have more capacity and produce more energy than wind power and more than geothermal, solar PV and ocean energy combined. By 2009 there were 157,900 MW of wind power, 174,000 MW of solar thermal collectors for water heating and building heating or cooling installed, but only about 1,000 MW of high temperature solar thermal collector generating capacity and about 17,000 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity.

According to the 75 page report, the major solar thermal market is China, which leads the world by a long margin, followed by the United States, Germany and Turkey. Although the installed capacity of CSP (Concentrating Solar Power), solar power generation is still small it has started to take off in the last two years, notably in Spain and the United States.

Electricity cannot be stored in any large measure, but heat can. Because solar thermal energy, like wind, is intermittent, the storage of heat is crucial to its success. Energy captured during sunny periods of low demand can be stored for use in periods of high demand.

The last two or three years have seen strides forward in all solar technologies and many 50 to 100 MW CSP power generation projects are being developed, with larger ones in the pipeline. The major direct use solar thermal markets – China, USA, Turkey, Germany and Japan are outlined and current market sizes provided. Israel is important for per capita use but relatively small in total. Between them, they have 75% of the global market for solar thermal collectors and ancillary equipment. The growing CSP markets of Spain and the United States are outlined, with lists of projects already competed, under construction and planned.

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