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Small and medium solar thermal has great potential

Small and medium sized solar thermal power stations have a larger application potential than often thought, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE).

Normally, solar thermal power plants over 20 MW have been seen as the most cost-effective way of producing solar electricity, but large plants are not always practical to plan, design and construct.

“Small is beautiful – and most of all fast,” says Dr Werner J. Platzer, Department Head at Fraunhofer ISE.

“Systems ranging from 20 kW up to 2 MW can be more easily realised and they offer greater possibilities: the local heat or cooling demand can be combined with electricity production. This increases the profitability and facilitates the financing.”

Fraunhofer ISE has investigated the potential of small and medium-scale solar thermal power stations.

Plazer says: “For regional applications, the technology is economical where there is a large fraction of direct sunlight. This applies, for example, to the Mediterranean and the more southerly regions.

“For off-grid applications and for applications where the provision from the grid is unreliable, this technology is more cost-effective than employing a diesel generator.

“Air-condition could also be an important application. Over 40 million new air-conditioning units are sold worldwide annually and the tendency is increasing. Up to now, this potential application has not been used because market-ready products and demonstration projects that serve as role models are still needed.”

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Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling