Solar Interviews

Solarserver Interview with the new President of ESTIF,
Gerhard Rabensteiner

Gerhard Rabensteiner, Managing Director of KIOTO Clear Energy AG, was elected as the new President of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) in April. He is the successor of Ole Pilgaard who headed ESTIF for over four years. European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF)
Gerhard Rabensteiner, President of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF).

Gerhard Rabensteiner was one of the founding members of ESTIF and since the establishment of this federation in 2002 he acted as Vice-President. He looks back on many years of experience in the field of solar thermal energy as the Managing Director of the Austrian company GREENoneTEC that is now part of KIOTO Clear Energy AG. This holding company was co-founded by the Austrian in 2006. In his interview with Solarserver, the new ESTIF President spoke about the perspectives of the branch, policies for renewable energies and his plans for the future.

Solarserver: Mr Rabensteiner, we congratulate you on your election as President of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation ESTIF. You are taking over this office at a point in time when all lights for solar thermal energy in Europe are green. What are your goals for the coming years?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: Indeed, generally all lights are green, but we shouldn’t forget that many detail activities will be required until we can switch over to solar energy supply. Thus, we at ESTIF are currently in an intensive consultation process to develop the new European directives for the promotion of renewable energies that now – thanks to many years of lobbying by ESTIF – for the first time include heating and cooling. We are expecting to receive a bill from the European Commission during the course of this year. This directive will then define decisive, binding targets for all EU member states and this will have a major impact on solar thermal energy. In this regard we will be striving for close cooperation with the various national solar associations to ensure subsequent implementation into national legislation so that the solar targets contained in the directive will be supported by the resolutions passed by the member states.

Elucidate the excellent performance of solar thermal energy systems

In this regard it is essential that the potential of solar thermal is placed into the correct context and that our vision is made accessible to all major role-players. The establishment of the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform (ESTTP) that is supported by ESTIF is an important step in this regard. We must elucidate even more clearly the performance of solar thermal today and even more so, what solar thermal will be able to achieve in future. It can’t be and it may not be tolerated that in broad circles of the European population (and also in the arena of political decision-making) solar energy is - in a kind of reflex - equated with photovoltaics. Here we need to place stronger accents and thereby help our solar thermal technology to achieve a large-scale breakthrough.

Solarserver: The European Council passed a binding resolution on March 9th to increase the share of renewable energies by 20 % by the year 2020. What are the implications of this resolution for solar thermal developments and how is this target to be implemented in the various member states?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: We expect this long overdue target to give solar thermal a real boost. On the concrete implementation there will, of course, still be prolonged political negotiations on a European level as well as in the various member states. Our ESTIF target in this regard is that binding measures for the regenerative heating and cooling sector be included into the new renewable energy directive that is currently being drafted by the European Commission and that may already be passed by the European Council and the European Parliament next year. We also expect this directive to place an obligation on member states to establish national plans of action containing sector targets, i.e. also a separate target for the heating and cooling sector.

Solarserver: Currently Germany, your home country Austria, Greece and France constitute three quarters of the European solar thermal market. Is there no sunshine in the other countries or is it to weak?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: The differing degrees of utilising solar thermal energy in Europe and worldwide can be traced back to various causes. Interestingly, the difference in solar radiation is one of the least influential factors. I see the main cause as being public and private awareness raising regarding renewable energies. Per se, energy policies are "res publica" and if in countries such as France, energy-political awareness was characterised by support of nuclear energy for the past decades (and unfortunately, as it seems, in future too), this is a status quo that is difficult to change. In such an instance the "normative power of the actual facts" has manifested itself so powerfully that this could only be changed by immense efforts of broad alliances.

"European Day of the Sun" to carry Austria’s and Germany’s positive experiences to the whole of Europe

In the end, it is the responsibility of all of us to become committed to renewable energies (and particularly to solar thermal) and to overcome the old fossil and nuclear patterns of thought. In this regard ESTIF tries to support “renewable awareness raising” as far as possible. Besides our daily task of convincing Brussels, we are currently also involved with a project called "European Day of the Sun" with which we wish to carry Austria’s and Germany’s positive experiences to the whole of Europe. In future we also want to strengthen our contacts to new members in Eastern Europe in order to assist these countries in achieving a breakthrough in the topic of the future: “solar thermics”.

Solarwärme-Kombisystem in Dänemark. solarthermische Fassade in Karlsruhe.
Solar thermal combination system in Denmark, solar thermal façade in France. Source: N. Batec / ESTIF; GREENoneTEC / ESTIF

Solarserver: With its solar thermal plan of action, ESTIF is presenting a comprehensive paper for the expansion of heating and cooling with renewable energies. What are the next concrete steps and measures?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: With the solar thermal plan of action we want to inform political decision takers about what the contribution of solar thermal can be to a future European mix of renewable energies and what political support is required. It has been seen that for the positive development of solar thermal, continued long-term political support is an indispensable condition – in Austria this has proven to be the key to success over the last two decades. Such an approach provides all players in the market with clearly predictable and thus also plannable framework conditions without the unfortunate stop-and-go policy that we see so often. This creates and overall positive regulatory framework within which companies can grow and generate economies of scale to the advantage of consumers. In its plan of action ESTIF introduces supporting measures as well as additional measures such as target-setting and monitoring and the absolutely essential removal of market barriers. To achieve the latter, ESTIF strongly supports the implementation and recognition of the “Solar Keymark” as a harmonised admission and quality hallmark throughout Europe.

Solarserver: Countries such as Spain and Italy are very successful with their solar obligations. Binding directives set solar coverage ratios for new constructions and buildings that are refurbished. Is this a model for the whole of Europe?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: I am convinced that this is the way to go. Just think of how many different building regulations exist in Europe – and in some instances they contain conflicting, historically based requirements regarding fittings and technology of buildings. In this regard I always like using an example that I picked up during my time as an ex-pat in the Netherlands: in the Netherlands, staircases are a lot steeper and thus more economic in terms of space than they are in Germany or Austria – and in spite of this, people still manage to move quite easily from one floor to the next. The cost savings that could be brought about by this one small technical difference (that is based solely on differing building regulations) could already partially finance a solar thermal system.

Building regulations that make energy-political sense are easier to be understood than many other bureaucratic rules

I am absolutely convinced that Europeans would understand the importance of building regulations that make energy-political sense much easier than many other bureaucratic rules – particularly in times that are marked by uncertain supplies of fossil fuels and even wars over oil. Particularly because the installation of a solar thermal system at the time of construction of a building is a lot more cost-efficient than retrospective fitting. Another advantage not to be underestimated is that such an approach would take some pressure off chronically strained public budgets, since solar thermal systems are privately financed. However, in such a model public support could contribute to the targets being reached faster.

Moving quality standards to the forefront

Often the argument is raised that obligatory solar systems lead to cheap systems of inferior quality being installed. We want to counteract this trend with the implementation of the quality hallmark “Solar Keymark” throughout Europe. This would ensure a uniform, acceptable quality standard on the hardware side. Obviously we from the solar thermal sector also need to consider the side of tradesmanship: together with the various associations of artisans and political role-players we need to develop practicable measures to ensure the quality of installation, without setting up unnecessary new hurdles for solar thermics. France, for example, with its “Qualisol” programme adopted an interesting approach.

Solarserver: In June the solar thermal industry, the trade and the political sector will meet at the estec2007 conference. Besides the development of the market, technology is to be at the forefront of this event. What trends can be noted in the field of solar thermics?

Gerhard Rabensteiner: Firstly, I wish to point out that the ESTEC conference has become a leading European – and it may even be said, international – conference for solar thermal in a very short period of time. We at ESTIF are very proud of this fact that also reflects the continued interest in our technology. In June in Freiburg we are again expecting an increased number of participants and are ready to impress with a wealth of interesting field-specific presentations.

Solar systems, biomass boilers and heat pumps have become standard components of manufacturers of heating systems

This is all about setting future technological trends – and this could already be seen at the ISH in Frankfurt. For me the general trend towards renewable energies and particularly a combination of different renewable modules, such as solar and heat pump, was striking. None of the large manufacturers of heating systems can afford not to have solar, biomass or heat pumps in their range. Our world is changing steadily – and it is up to us to position solar thermics as the winner in this battle. And this is my main target that I will be striving for within the framework of my possibilities as President of ESTIF.

Mr Rabensteiner, we thank you for this interview and wish you success as President of ESTIF. The Solarserver interview was conducted by Chief Editor Rolf Hug.

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