The sun provides an inexhaustible source of energy. Solar energy can provide a significant proportion of the world’s sustainable energy requirement, thus helping to achieve the global climate objectives. Solar energy can be converted into electricity (by photovoltaic panels) or into heat (by thermal solar collectors). Large-scale solar energy systems can be implemented by companies, in new construction projects, and in the agricultural sector. It would also be possible to create a full-scale power generating station (a ‘solar power plant’), while smaller applications are available to individual households in the form of solar-powered boilers, rooftop PV panels, and heating systems for, say, a swimming pool.
Solar energy can be used as a ‘stand-alone’ solution to generate heat or electricity, but can also be incorporated into other concepts. Examples of this approach include the energy-neutral home, various applications in the glasshouse-based horticultural sector, solar panels incorporated into a building’s windows and (glass) façade, and heat storage devices. As technology advances, there are likely to be further applications such as full climate control systems for buildings as well as business processes.
Recent years have seen a significant growth in the use of solar energy in Europe, with Germany, Spain, Italy and France emerging as frontrunners in the field. Many Dutch companies have enjoyed great export success. It is only comparatively recently that a domestic market has begun to develop; there remains much untapped potential. A number of major reference projects involving solar collectors and photovoltaic systems have already been implemented in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands’ largest solar collector system to date can be found in Haarlem. It has a collector field with a surface area of over 3,200 m2 and supplies heat to nine large apartment buildings, primarily for warm water. The excess heat generated in the summer months is stored underground for use in winter by means of heat-and-cold storage. This is one of the largest solar collector systems in Europe, certainly within the urban environment.
The Netherlands can also offer good references in the use of photovoltaic systems, particularly within the urban environment. The most prominent project to date is the ongoing ‘Stad van de Zon’ (Sun City) development in Heerhugowaard, which is to become the largest emissions-neutral residential district in the world. Its energy requirements will be met using various forms of sustainable energy, including a large scale solar energy system. Work on the project began in 2002 and is scheduled for completion in 2012.
Unique Selling Points
• The Netherlands has an excellent knowledge base in the field of solar energy. The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) is among the world leaders in solar energy research, particularly that focusing on the development of the next generation of photovoltaic systems.
• The Netherlands can also offer extensive expertise in the production of ultra-thin photovoltaic films, which enable solar energy systems to be integrated into glass and other components of a building’s exterior without detracting from its aesthetic qualities.
• Dutch manufacturers have extensive experience in designing and implementing large-scale photovoltaic systems, both in the Netherlands and – especially – other countries.
• Over the past 25 years, Dutch suppliers of solar collector systems have made major advances in terms of the efficiency, visual integration and modularity of their products, establishing extremely high standards of quality.
• Dutch solar collector systems can be supplied with a ‘runback’ option which automatically shuts down the collector in extremely hot or cold weather. The fluid in the system (used to transfer heat) drains into a buffer container inside the building where it is protected against the elements. This Dutch invention renders the entire system extremely reliable and virtually maintenance-free.
• For many years, Dutch researchers have been working to develop a combined photovoltaic and solar collector panel which will generate heat and electricity simultaneously. A working prototype has now been produced. Where space is limited, this solution can generate considerably more energy than two separate parallel systems.
• Within the next ten years, electricity from solar energy is expected to become significantly less expensive than that generated using fossil fuels.
Solar energy is the cleanest form of energy generation there is. It accounts for zero CO2 emissions and has none of the drawbacks associated with conventional generation methods relying on fossil-fuels (coal, gas, or oil) or nuclear energy. Calculations by the ECN suggest that over 50% of the energy requirement of Dutch towns and cities can eventually be met using solar energy.
Market parties and research institutes
The Netherlands has several research institutes specializing in solar technology, companies which supply solar energy products and systems, and production technology resources, as well as consultancy services and project developers that have expertise in the field. Most are members of the industry association ‘Holland Solar’.
Best practice reference projects in the Netherlands
• Schalkwijk: 2 MW heat supply system in Haarlem
• Stad van de Zon, Heerhugowaard
• Van Melle (Breda): process heat supply
• Floriade solar roof
Potential obstacles to international business
• Significant differences in national feed-in tariffs
• Significant differences in national legislation
• Connection to the grid is often subject to lengthy and complex approval procedures
• Product approval