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Revolution in the Industry: Solar Energy as the Engine of Production Processes

2024-01-24

Revolution in the Industry: Solar Energy as the Engine of Production Processes

Solar energy is one of the pillars of the energy transition, utilized in various sectors, including private, commercial, and public domains. Currently, solar energy is already integrated into production processes in many businesses, supporting and optimizing production costs, as well as fostering sustainable industrial processes through self-generated electricity. However, there are challenges, and solutions are already in progress, expected to be implemented in the coming years.

The Role of Solar Energy in the Industrial Energy Transition

Currently, solar energy offers several advantages for businesses. It is used for heating, cooling, lighting, and overall power support in industries such as food and beverage production, among others, wherever the installation of solar panels is feasible. However, challenges related to availability, reliability, energy transmission, and costs hinder the widespread use of renewable energy in the production sector. Solutions are on the verge of market readiness and are likely to be extensively employed in a few years. Germany is expected to be among the first countries to regain attractiveness as an industrial location due to cost-effective renewable energy.

The solutions generally involve powerful and affordable electricity storage solutions in the form of battery storage, coupled with a smart system that ensures solar efficiency in the industry. Digging deeper, the efficiency package can be broken down into energy-efficient and flexible processes that reduce energy consumption. This includes integrating heat pumps and aforementioned battery storage, digital and electrified control of energy flows, and the expansion of research and development. While Germany has many hidden champions, especially in the middle-sized sector, it has often struggled to translate brilliant research results into corresponding industrial applications. Efforts are underway to change this trend.

Innovative Uses of Solar Energy in Production

Heat is a critical factor in many industrial production processes, whether in the automotive industry or in food production for pasteurization. Photovoltaic systems can be used to power heat pumps, providing electricity for heating or cooling spaces as needed. Solar collectors can assist in generating steam and high-temperature heat, crucial in industries such as metallurgy, brick and clay, chemicals, and general process heating. Even low-temperature heat is required for processes like cooking, evaporation, drying, or distillation.

In the realm of cooling industrial buildings, which poses significant challenges, solar energy combined with greening initiatives can offer long-term cost savings. Numerous interdisciplinary research projects and pilot initiatives have been ongoing for years, producing regularly published results. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to explore sustainable energy optimization and efficiency improvement possibilities, which will ultimately strengthen Germany's economic standing.

Benefits and Challenges of Solar Energy in Industrial Operations

The advantages of solar energy in industrial operations include cost savings, process optimization, global benefits of sustainable practices, power supply security, and an enhanced corporate image. While sustainable energy production from renewable sources faces criticism in some quarters, in the long run, there is no alternative to sustainable solutions. Despite the current challenges, the pioneering efforts of Germans are expected to pay off in the medium and long term, as few other locations worldwide will have as much hands-on experience with new technologies. This extends beyond hardware experience to the introduction of smart technologies that will connect and optimize systems in the future.

Case Studies: Successful Integration of Solar Energy into Production Processes

An exemplary case of implementing an innovative solar concept is Volkswagen's sourcing of solar power for its Zwickau plant. Volkswagen procures electricity from the Enerparc AG for the production of electric vehicles. According to Volkswagen, the solar energy directly powers the plant, reducing annual CO2 emissions by 2,650 tons. The contract spans 20 years with an annual capacity of 5.5 million kWh of solar energy. The Zwickau plant exclusively produces electric vehicles. This project illustrates the need for companies to think through concepts comprehensively. Businesses aiming to score points with consumers through sustainable products can hardly afford to source energy from fossil fuels for image reasons.

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