Mundo, ante el problema de energía… ¡ya tenemos la solución!

World, to the energy problem... we already have the solution!

There are already solutions to unstable fuel prices and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. One of them concerns more than the 70% of the final use of energy in the industrial sector.

In 2022, industry, particularly in Europe and Asia, replaced the use of gas with coal – an archaic, highly polluting fuel harmful to human health – to meet its heat and power generation needs. This decision was primarily a response to the global energy crisis caused by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Of course, this measure had consequences and led to a significant increase in emissions caused by burning coal, which mainly contributes to climate change and pollution.

(Coal mining in Germany) | Chris Münch on Unsplash

However, there is a small glimmer of hope: against all fears, the increase in emissions from coal combustion was lower than estimated. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energies played a major role in supplying the energy sources affected by the crisis and prevented the emission of up to 550 Mt of CO2 that year.

The sun: the answer for more than 70% of energy use

Source © Solar Payback

The IEA report highlights the contribution of wind power and solar photovoltaics in preventing emissions. These two renewable energy sources were mainly used to generate electricity. Imagine what the result would have been if more renewables had been used for 70% of final energy consumption: heat.

While 26% of global industrial energy use is for electricity, the remaining 74% is for processes that require a range of different degrees of heat. Currently, almost half of this demand is met by coal as the main fuel, a third by natural gas and 15% by oil, leaving less than a tenth for renewables.

Final energy consumption for heat in the industrial sector. Source © Solar Payback

The industrial sector is missing the opportunity to use energy sources that are on-site. We forget to look over our heads by continuing to rely on outdated energy that is dependent on fossil fuels, with a volatile market and highly polluting derivatives.

Today, technology and companies in the renewable energy sector have evolved to meet the needs of the industrial sector, which can have process requirements of over 400°C. This is the other side of solar energy: solar thermal energy.

Solar energy: differences in electricity and heat

Generally speaking, solar energy is clean, inexpensive and does not need to be transported, which reduces costs and risks in the supply chain. In particular, solar thermal energy is distinguished by its efficiency: It requires proportionally less space than photovoltaic systems because it is up to three times more efficient.

Pascual Polo, General Director of the Spanish Solar Thermal Industry Association (ASIT) and Heat Changer, explains in our podcast that 4 hectares are needed to generate 2 megawatts of electricity with photovoltaics, as they are able to harness 15-20% of the sun’s energy. By contrast, only one hectare is needed to generate the same 2 megawatts (thermal) with solar thermal collectors, as this other type of solar energy can utilize 70 to 80% of the sun’s radiation.

Solar thermal energy, also known as solar heat, fulfills exactly the same function as fossil fuels: to satisfy the heat generation demand. In other words, to heat water or other fluids and even to generate steam. There are already better, sustainable and efficient options for many industrial processes. Not using them is a cost factor for the economy.

The use of solutions such as solar thermal leads to an immediate improvement in financial planning, as it is not dependent on fluctuating fuel prices determined by geopolitical and financial market situations. It also reduces costs by reducing the carbon footprint of the process and products.

Thermal energy: investing in the future

So why have companies hesitated? Optimizing processes is an important step in the internal life of any company, but it is often only an economic one.

Daniel García, CEO of Módulo Solar, has identified some of the reasons why many industries avoid this decision. The first reason is fear and uncertainty about the guarantees in terms of savings and system lifetime. But also, the question of whether it is necessary to break with the paradigm in which their finances are managed, i.e. the fuel costs that are paid monthly. And a third problem: resistance to change and trying out new technologies.

The fact is that the use of renewable energy is not yet standard anywhere in the world. Until very recently, companies were used to not worrying about energy costs.

If the data proves the importance of switching energy supply sources for the most energy-intensive processes in industry, what will it take to turn words into action?

The savings guarantee already exists, and solar thermal companies are working to provide customers the certainty they need. Energy transition is a global step, and standards are different in every country.

The savings guarantee already exists, and solar thermal companies are working to provide customers the certainty they need. Energy transition is a global step, and standards are different in every country. Daniel Garcia points out that it is important be aware of the different incentives granted by countries. For example, the costs related to the acquisition of renewable energy technology can be fully tax deductible in some countries. Others may be financing incentives, tax incentives and other types of instruments that make the change even more beneficial. A change that benefits companies and the planet. Especially companies from the food and beverage sector are using solar heat to reduce the carbon footprint as we recently elaborate on our article “Clean manufacturing with solar heat”.

Author: Laura Yaniz Estrada, Communications Consultant

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