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The abundance of municipal utilities is a defining characteristic of the German energy market. In 2019, it was these local companies, known as Stadtwerke, that contributed in particular to the large growth in solar-thermal plant installations. New plants with a total surface area of about 35,000 m² were connected to district heating networks, which represents a doubling of capacity.
According to the Stuttgart-based Steinbeis Research Institute Solites, Germany has about 70 MW of solar-thermal capacity for district heating. Some of these solar district heating plants will start operation in the coming months, but the collectors were installed in 2019 and thus the course is set for growth.
The municipal utility Stadtwerke Ludwigsburg-Kornwestheim in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg is planning to feed solar heat into their district heating network in the first quarter of 2020. They currently own the largest German thermal solar-heating plant with a surface of 14,800 m². In Bernburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, the collectors were completed in December with the thermal storage set to be installed in Spring.
“In 2019, it was mainly Stadtwerke in metropolitan areas that discovered the potential of solar-thermal”, says Thomas Pauschinger, a member of the institute’s management. That solar-thermal has become an economically attractive option for established suppliers with existing district heating networks is a noteworthy development, the academic states. He points to the myriad successful reference plants and many good arguments. For energy suppliers, solar-thermal is now clearly seen as a way to decarbonize district heating networks.
Large scale solar-thermal is a mature technology. Word on the strong performance of the first commercial plants has spread rapidly among suppliers. Meanwhile, federal incentive programs compensate for the high installation costs, which combined with the long-term lower operating costs makes solar-thermal even more attractive. Germany’s announcement of a CO2 price will further improve prospects for the technology.
Nevertheless, as Pauschinger notes, “the share of solar heat in the district heating market is still negligible. We see a market potential of 20 GW and expect a continuous growth in the coming years.”
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