Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2008)

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Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC Canada)
Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program

CETC Number CM001743 / 2005-08-01


A detailed survey of the active solar thermal (ST) industry in Canada was undertaken in the period from January through March, 2005. The primary focus of the survey was to determine the size of the Canadian solar thermal industry and market. This data was then used to derive thermal energy output and avoided greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from solar thermal systems. As the first survey of this type in over a decade, the questionnaire was distributed widely, to 268 recipients across Canada. The low participation rate by small retail operations was compensated by participation of the majority of larger businesses. This resulted in obtaining reliable data for analysis, and the results provide a solid base of information on which future surveys can build.

The survey reveals annual sales of 24.2, 26.4 and 37.5 MWTH in 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. Adding these new installations to the approximately 170 MWTH of operating systems at the end of 2001 yields a total of 258 MWTH of operating solar thermal installations in Canada. This represents over 50% growth in the operating base during the three-year survey period.

As can be seen from Figure 1, sales of all collector types grew substantially during the three-year survey period, with 2004 being an excellent year for the industry, with total sales growth of over 40%, in terms of both area and value. Further to this growth, the survey respondents are expecting 20% growth in both 2005 and 2006. Approximately 10% of all sales were exported during 2002 - 2004.

Figure 1 also indicates that while unglazed liquid collectors (97% of which are used for
swimming pool heating) constitute the majority of the collector area sold in Canada, the
three major types of solar collectors (combining evacuated with liquid glazed as a single
type) all hold roughly one third of the market, when measured on a revenue basis.

The survey confirmed that the markets and applications for different collector types are distinct:

  • Almost all liquid unglazed collectors are sold into the residential sector, for swimming pool heating (97%).
  • The vast majority of air collectors are sold into the industrial/commercial/institutional (I/C/I) sector (90%), with most of these being used for space heating.
  • Sales of liquid glazed and evacuated tube collectors were split between the residential and I/C/I sectors, with approximately 67% in the residential sector. The residential sector sales were primarily for domestic water heating, although in 2004 23% of sales in the residential sector were for combination domestic hot water (DHW) and space heating applications, indicating strong growth in this application. Sales of these collectors into the I/C/I sector were primarily for DHW applications.

The survey also revealed that the solar thermal market in Quebec differed from other regions, with more than double the annual per capita revenue of any other region ($400 per 1,000 residents), due to a much stronger penetration of higher cost solar collectors. This is a result of the greater market penetration of unglazed air collectors, with a higher cost per square meter than the unglazed liquid collectors.

Calculations of the greenhouse gas emissions avoided due to active solar thermal systems currently operating in Canada were made based on historical estimates of solar thermal installations, including when systems were decommissioned. A model was developed to calculate an operating base, by collector type, from 1979 to the present. This model showed that many of the systems installed during the 1980’s were decommissioned during the 1990’s. It also shows that it is only during recent years that the operating base of solar thermal systems in Canada has begun to increase again (refer to appendix C for details of this model, and to Figure 15, for a summary of the output).

Calculations show that the estimated GHG emissions avoided from all active solar systems operating in Canada during 2004 were 23,200 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Similar calculations show that the expected avoidance of CO2 emissions, from solar collectors sold and installed in Canada during 2004, over their 20 – 30 year life, will total 122,600 tonnes.

The data also show that there are distinct differences in the three types of solar collectors when measured against three major metrics: collector area, earned revenue and GHG emission avoidance. Just as “market share”* by collector type can be measured in either collector area or revenue, it can also be measured against GHG savings. When comparing the collector types against each other, unglazed pool collectors dominate the market in terms of collector area sold, their “market share” is smaller in terms of revenue, and smaller still in terms of GHG savings (largely because swimming pools operate for a shorter season than air or glazed collectors). Conversely, the market share of air collectors rises as we move from collector area to revenue to GHG savings. A major reason for their large contribution to GHG savings is their expected longer life (30 years vs. 20 years for other collectors).