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Sarah Lozanova headshot

In Sun-Drenched Greece, Carlsberg Pilots Solar Thermal Technology

In Greece's second-largest city, Carlsberg is retrofitting one of its breweries with a solar thermal system to reduce heating costs as well as emissions.
By Sarah Lozanova

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

The benefits of solar thermal technology

The solar thermal collectors will be designed and manufactured by Absolicon, a Swedish company specializing in industrial heating processes. In an interview last year, Absolicon CEO Joakim Byström said 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, a multinational Danish conglomerate that owns dozens of beer brands, aims 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 has also 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 upfront costs.

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 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). When sufficient solar resources are not 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 photovoltaic plant in 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 depend on the energy source they displace. In some countries, oil is used to fuel these heating processes, the use of which comes with a massive carbon footprint. These solar thermal systems can have a payback period as short as three years, depending on the circumstance.

When thinking of renewable energy, a huge emphasis has been on solar electricity, said Byström of Absolicon. Although this is undoubtedly an essential aspect of the clean energy movement, electricity accounts for 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 industrial processes, it could be instrumental in companies meeting zero-emissions goals.

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

Sarah Lozanova headshot

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.

Read more stories by Sarah Lozanova