Carlsberg Pilots Solar Thermal Technology in Greece

Taking advantage of what is still plenty of untapped potential solar energy in Greece, Carlsberg Group is installing what the company says is the most efficient solar thermal system currently on the market. This trial could be a big step towards Carlsberg’s goal of zero carbon emissions in its breweries by 2030. The system will produce heat, reducing the use of fossil fuels in the process.

The benefits of solar thermal technology

The solar collectors will be designed and manufactured by Absolicon, a Swedish company specializing in industrial heating processes. According to Absolicon’s CEO, Joakim Byström, breweries, dairy processors and the textile industry are ideal applications for this technology.

Although many companies are switching to renewable electricity, heating often consumes the lion’s share of the total energy consumption in these industries, largely due to the need to wash bottles or textiles, heat ingredients or pasteurize products. Other industries that could benefit from solar thermal collectors include mining, desalination, pulp and paper, and pharmaceuticals.

Carlsberg, the multinational Danish brand that owns dozens of beer brands, has launched a goal to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources at its breweries and to use zero coal by 2022. The company says it is examining many critical areas of sustainability, looking far beyond clean electricity.

Carlsberg builds on its sustainability track record

In addition to its focus on clean energy, the company is also implementing water conservation measures, especially in high-risk areas. The company has also taken on other sustainability projects. For example, Carlsberg is partnering with WWF to address the loss of sea grass, an understated carbon sink. The company also has rolled out snap packs that are held together by glue, not plastic wrap or rings.

As far as its investments in renewables go, Carlsberg’s use of solar thermal technology is appealing because it can be used to retrofit existing systems, reducing the upfront costs of the implementation of such systems.

Absolicon designed its solar thermal systems to integrate with existing equipment, creating a hybrid approach. These arrays specialize in emissions-free heat and steam for industrial applications, with temperatures up to 320°F (160°C). When there isn’t sufficient solar resources available, a plant’s management team then can turn to already existing equipment to generate heat.

Unlike solar photovoltaic technology, which produces electricity, solar thermal collectors generate heat by concentrating the sun’s energy. The most efficient solar photovoltaic panel currently on the market is 23 percent efficient in converting solar energy into electricity. By contrast, Alsolicon’s T160 solar collectors are 76 percent efficient in converting solar energy to heat, according to the manufacturer. Whereas solar electricity is stored in batteries, solar thermal heat is stored in tanks. Then, heat is transferred using a heat exchanger through pipes.

A boost for renewables investment in Greece

In 2020, Greece added 913 megawatts of solar electricity capacity and is a rapidly growing solar energy market. In December, the Greek government approved four new renewable power projects as part of its drive to recover from economic shocks that resulted from the global pandemic.

Thessaloniki, home to the Carlsberg brewery scoring this solar thermal makeover, boasts over 300 days of sunshine annually
Thessaloniki, home to the Carlsberg brewery scoring this solar thermal makeover, boasts over 300 days of sunshine annually.

As the country seeks close to an additional $12 billion (10 billion euros) in clean technology investments, Greece is also attracting leading clean energy players such as Masdar, which in May agreed to a 65-megawatt solar PV plant in a partnership with a Finland-based firm.

The Carlsberg project could help advance the country’s solar thermal industry.

Why the potential of solar goes far beyond electricity

The exact financial and carbon emissions savings of these solar thermal systems depends on the energy source it is displacing. In some countries, oil is used to fuel these heating processes, the use of which comes with its massive carbon footprint. In some cases, these solar thermal systems can have a payback period as short as three years.

When thinking of renewable energy, a huge emphasis has been on solar electricity, according to Byström. Although this is undoubtedly an essential aspect of the clean energy movement, electricity actually makes up 30 percent of global energy consumption.

By contrast, heating and cooling comprise 49 percent of the world’s total energy usage, thus presenting a critical area to address in order to slow climate change. If Alsolicon’s technology is successfully deployed in numerous industrial processes, it could be instrumental in companies meeting zero-emissions goals.

Image credit: Carlsberg Group and Absolicon; Dragos Gontariu/Unsplash