The industrial processes that supports our international economy—manufacturing, fuel and chemical manufacturing, mining—are vastly complex and diverse. But they share one key input: they, as well as many others, need heat, and lots of it, which takes astounding amounts of fuel to produce. Heat and steam production is crucial to the international economy, but it’s also an overlooked and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that innovative solar skills can generate steam at industrial scale—reducing releases and, increasingly, cutting costs. And given the present weather stance, it’s crucial that industry accept these new skills.
Despite huge development around the world to ramp up sustainable and increase energy efficiency, global GHG emissions reached an all-time high in 2018. In a report released in January, found that even though renewable energy installations soared and coal plants shut down, carbon emissions in the U.S. rose sharply last year. Emissions from industry shot up 5.6 % more than in any other sector, including transportation and power generation.
This must change, at the worldwide level. International industry is answerable for a quarter of total emissions. And while those from transportation and residential segments are trending down, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that industrial emissions will grow some 24 % by 2050.
As people around the world continue to transition from living off the land to moving to cities and buying and consuming more things, industrial activity will continue to increase—and the need to reduce corresponding emissions will become all the more urgent. This brings us back to heat. Industry is the major consumer of power, and a surprising 74 percent of industrial energy is in the form of heat, mostly process steam.
In a solar thermal system, mirrors focus sunlight to intensify its heat and produce steam at the high temperatures needed for industry. Another key advantage is the ability to store the heat using simple, proven thermal energy storage in order to deliver steam 24 hours a day, just like a conventional fossil fuel plant. With the correct technology, solar thermal can be a consistent, effective and low-cost energy source for industrial steam generation. For example, renewable process heat provider Sun vapor is partnering with Horizon Nut to build a 50-kilowatt solar thermal installation at a pistachio processing facility in the Central Valley of California. The companies are working to expand solar steam production for food industry processes, such as pasteurization, drying and roasting.
Meanwhile, to meet the needs of extremely high-temperature (800-1,000degreesC) industrial processes, the European Union is developing SOLPART, a research project to develop solar thermal energy that can be used to produce cement, lime and gypsum.
While fossil fuels remain the main source of temperature for industry across all sectors and regions, industry is beginning to discover cleaner alternatives—and in some cases, industry is leveraging solar steam on a significant scale. As technology advances, more and more companies will find that switching to solar steam can simultaneously reduce costs and emissions, improving business operations while shrinking its carbon footprint.
When it comes to mitigating climate change, most attention has been directed to the things we see, buy, or use on a daily basis—the cars we drive, the food we eat, the power plants that keep our lights on. But behind all these actions is process heat, and releases source that has been largely ignored.
Now we must turn our responsiveness to industry—the sleeping huge of climate action. Process heat is an overlooked opportunity to slash GHG emissions, and solar technologies operating at the scale needed by industry are currently available. It’s time to hold them and stop industrial heat from heating up our planet.