Solar thermal energy registered a slight decrease in Europe

Following an outstanding growth in 2008, the European solar thermal market decreased by 10% in 2009. For the second year in a row, over 4 million square metres of solar panels were sold in Europe. However, the outlook for 2010 remains uncertain as the financial and economic crisis continues to have a negative impact on public support and incentive policies for renewable heating and cooling.

2009 was a challenging year for the solar thermal sector in Europe. While still the leader with an overall share of 38%, the German market contracted by 23% Furthermore, the effects of the current economic downturn have been felt most acutely in recently booming countries such as France, Spain and Italy.

However, the “solar thermal sector still outperformed a market environment characterized by struggling building industries in many European countries and the global economic crisis”, says Olivier Drücke, ESTIF President. Smaller markets like Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, all below 200,000 m² newly installed capacity per annum, posted a double digit growth in 2009. The Portuguese solar thermal market even experienced a twofold increase due to a new financial incentive scheme.

Obviously fuel prices and economic activity have a significant impact on solar thermal markets; however, our sector’s stability remains fragile being highly dependent on the diversified and inconsistent support mechanisms available for solar thermal technologies across Europe. Often, periods of strong growth are followed by sharp downturns, a trend illustrated by the past two years with a substantial increase of 60% in 2008 and a decrease of 10% in 2009.

Business in 2010 will hence be affected by the impact of the financial and economic crisis on public support and incentive policies across Europe. In this context, we should bear in mind that “renewables are today an integral part of the energy policy agenda in most European countries, a fact primarily due to the RES directive and its forthcoming incorporation into national legislations.” remarks Xavier Noyon, ESTIF Secretary General.

Interestingly enough, and surely another positive sign, orders for large solar installations seem to be unaffected by the market downturn.

ESTIF is the voice of the solar thermal industry, actively promoting the use of solar thermal technology for renewable heating and cooling in Europe. With around 100 members from 19 European countries, ESTIF represents the entire supply chain.