Solar Thermal: More Efficient, Less Talked About

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In most countries solar power is often perceived as synonymous with solar photovoltaic (PV), the classic rooftop panels that convert sunlight to electricity through solar cells. But that could be a misconception, says Environmental Protection, since solar thermal, which gets less attention than PV, actually is more efficient.

Solar thermal is cheaper and more efficient, EP points out. “PV converts 12 per cent of energy into usable electricity at a cost of 25 to 35 cents per kilowatt hour. Solar thermal, which includes solar air and solar water … offers 55 per cent efficiency at 12 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour, and solar air delivers 80 percent at 3 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour”.

If that’s the case, why does PV get more airplay than thermal? Enerconcept Technologies president Christian Vachon says it’s because PV gets most subsidies. “Governments should stop thinking that solar is expensive and needs to be heavily subsidized in order to be sustainable. With PV, we’re putting all our eggs in the longest possible payback basket. Our leaders should instead focus on an energy policy that promotes the lowest-cost energy technology”, he told EP.

Solar thermal electricity can be produced on a large scale as well. Spain recently became home to the world’s first 24/7 solar thermal plant near Seville in the south of the country and it’s expected to produce 110 GW/h per year.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

3 Comments

  1. Breath on the Wind on

    Solar Thermal energy deserves more consideration, but when you speak to people about solar thermal panels a “what’s that” is too frequently your only response. More subsidies can’t completely explain the the popularity of Solar Thermal. Another explanation offered here: http://cleantechnica.com/2011/10/03/hot-panels-practical-but-not-yet-popular-%e2%80%93-a-solar-overview/ is that there are more commercial markets available for solar PV.

  2. People in the Solar Thermal Industry know their systems as just that. “Solar Thermal” After being involved in the design and sales of these systems since the mid 1980′s in California and Florida, the general public has no idea what you are talking about when you call it that. The term “Domestic Solar Hot Water System” is what we always used and ninety percent of new customers new what it was without an explanation.

    • Breath on the Wind on

      That is fine mike. It is a description but it is not necessarily a marketing approach. Then also how does the industry market solar air conditioning or solar space heating? See the article mentioned in my previous comment.

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