Austria Email at the 2011 SMEthermal conference

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Heinz Rucker (Austria Email) © Solarpraxis AG / Therese Aufschlager

Buffer cylinder with new ECO SKIN insulation

SMEthermal, the only international conference for the solar thermal industry that focuses explicitly on the subjects of manufacturing, automation and new materials, is now an established event. On 10 February, 160 decision-makers representing collector, absorber and storage tank manufacturers as well as machine and material suppliers from 19 different countries met in Berlin to discuss the current trends and technical challenges faced by their industry. The conference was organised by Solarpraxis, a Berlin-based event and media service provider specialising in renewable energy.

“I would like to applaud Solarpraxis AG for filling a gap in the solar thermal industry’s conference landscape”, says Xavier Noyon, Secretary General of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation and partner of the international conference. “SMEthermal is the perfect forum for an exchange of information between solar-thermal component manufacturers and the industry’s machine and material suppliers.” The list of participants, which reads like a Who is Who of the solar thermal industry, is proof of this. Decision-makers from the solar departments of the big heating groups Viessmann, BDR Thermea, Vaillant, Bosch and Riello rubbed shoulders with representatives from medium-sized storage tank and collector manufacturers from Greece, China, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Hungary.

The sponsors of the conference are happy: “We have established excellent new contacts. In the highly focused atmosphere of a conference focusing exclusively on solar thermal issues, it is easy to get into a deep technical conversation with potential customers”, says Roland Grubelnig, founder and managing director of the Austrian mechanical engineering firm RG Fertigungstechnik GmbH.

Without doubt, solar technology is no longer a niche technology in Europe. As much as 5% of all single-family homes are using solar power to heat water. Michael Denison-Pender from the UK company BRG Consult reports that every year, 600,000 to 800,000 new solar energy systems are installed.

Bärbel Epp, managing director of the solrico agency (solar market research & international communication), who was responsible for the conference programme in conjunction with Raffaele Piria from eclareon, a Berlin-based consultancy, concludes that the European solar industry is highly successful in meeting the challenges of the global thermal markets. The Berlin-based collector manufacturer KBB Kollektorbau sells its collectors in countries as far away as Chile, Tunisia and Canada. The Chinese factories operated by Bosch Thermotechnik, the German heating group, manufacture façade collectors for multi-family houses in densely populated areas.

With the steep rise in copper prices posing a serious problem for the collector industry, material-related issues represented a particularly important subject on this year’s conference. Alternative materials such as aluminium and polymers were the subject of heated discussion. Technical papers on storage tank production focused in particular on improved welding processes and optimised insulating material.

This part of the conference, which focused explicitly on heat storage tanks, offered an excellent opportunity for the Austrian OEM storage tank and insulation manufacturer Austria Email to air its outlook on the storage tank market. “The storage tank industry is going through a paradigm shift from soft-foam insulation to fleece insulation (polyester fibre fleece insulation)”, says Heinz Rucker, manager in charge of the distribution of ECO SKIN insulation at Austria Email.

The organisers are sure of one thing: The conference will take place again in spring 2012 - as an exclusive forum for the international solar thermal industry in cooperation with solrico and the renowned Sonne Wind & Wärme and Sun & Wind Energy magazines.