Three ways to read European market statistics


There is more than one way to read 2016’s market statistics published by Solar Heat Europe about 2 months ago. One could emphasise the great achievements made in reducing emissions and creating jobs in the solar heating and cooling sector in Europe (first part). One could likewise point to Denmark as a leader in solar district heating. A third possibility would be to concentrate on the continued decline in most key markets in Europe and the stark difference between renewable heating targets and their fulfilment in many countries (second part). You can download the 5-page brochure here.

Great achievements

There are over 10 million solar heating and cooling systems in Europe. These decentralised solutions are vital to Europe’s energy strategy for meeting heating and cooling demand across the continent. The 34.5 GWth in operation produce an estimated 24.3 TWhth of solar thermal energy while avoiding 6.49 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. The solar thermal sector generated a total turnover of EUR 2.2 billion in 2016 and employed around 22,400 people.

Denmark´s record year

In 2016, Denmark had a record 31 new solar district heating plants come online and 5 plants expanded, seeing 347 MWth added altogether. Partly motivated by the very late extension of the energy-saving agreement between Danish district heating companies and the country’s energy ministry, several utilities completed their solar district heating projects right before the end of that year. The new agreement, signed in December 2016, has allowed the companies to increase the size of systems or start constructing new ones by mid-2018 and still be able to comply with energy-saving rules for the period 2016-2020.

Key markets in decline

Other key solar heating and cooling markets above 50,000 m² have all shrunk considerably in 2016, except for Greece, which remained stable. They are Germany (-8 %), Spain (-12 %), Italy (-9 %), Poland (-58 %), Austria (-19 %), France (-35 %) and Switzerland (-34 %). Please see the links for a detailed analysis of the situation in these countries.

Baerbel Epp (

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When it comes to district heating, Sweden has made the switch from fossil fuels to biomass and waste heat (see chart). As early as 2015, biomass provided 46 % of the energy in district heating networks across the country, followed by 24 % from waste incineration and 8 % from industrial excess heat. Fossil fuels came only to about 7 % of the around 175 petajoules, or PJ, produced in Sweden in 2015 (latest data available).

A search for ‘solar thermal’ in a recently published 195-page document titled Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy will not return encouraging results (see the document at the bottom). The publication by the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-2020 shows only 6 entries in total. “Solar thermal is definitely not a priority of the new programme,” said Daniel Mugnier, Head of R&D at French engineering services company Tecsol. “And even if the European Solar Thermal Technology & Innovation Platform were to try to promote several hot topics, there’s only one call [LC-SC3-RES-7-2019 on solar process heat] dedicated to the technology.”

The map shows the three existing SDH plants in Varese, Sansicario and Lodi (red circles). A fourth with a gross area of about 600 m² is expected to come online in 2020 to feed heat into Turin’s district network operated by the Iren Group utility (yellow cirle). (Source: Ambiente Italia)

Substantial solar resources and a generous incentive scheme called Conto Termico 2.0: Perfect conditions, it seems, for the widespread use of solar district heating. But barriers such as a low gas price and the concentration of district heating in a small part of Italy have so far limited deployment to a few installed systems.

What would the economic impact on a future energy system be if one were to unlock the full solar thermal potential in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Italy? According to a study conducted by Aalborg University as part of the IEA SHC Task 52 research project Solar Heat and Energy Economics in Urban Environments, exploiting the maximum potential will result in significant cost reductions if solar heat is supplied not individually but by district heating.