Emerging Opportunities in Solar Thermal– Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning

One of the most interesting emerging business opportunities in solar thermal is solar-based refrigeration and air-conditioning.


  • Many developing parts of the world are grid-scare, and require Refrigeration for food and medicines
  • Developed nations can also use solar thermal for air-conditioning
  • Net-zero buildings require off-grid refrigeration and cooling solutions
  • Peak demand for air-conditioning and refrigeration coincides with peak solar radiation


  • Cooling is achieved through Vapor Absorption Method
    • Evaporating refrigerant causes the cooling
    • The evaporated refrigerant is absorbed into another liquid
    • The liquid is heated by solar energy to regain the refrigerant
  • Some desiccant-based solar thermal air-conditioning systems have also been developed


  • Increase in interest post Fukushima disaster
  • Little more than 1,000 installations worldwide
  • Most installations are in Spain, Germany, Italy and feature flat plate or evacuated tube collectors
  • Installations with parabolic trough or Fresnel collectors are found in India, Australia, and Turkey
  • Growing at over 40% annually, but from a very small base
  • Can also be used for heating in countries where cooling is not required all year
  • Solar PV based cooling is more cost-effective at smaller scales, but prohibitively expensive at larger capacities


  • Improved sorption material
  • Double and triple-effect cooling cycles
  • Scaling individual installation capacity downwards (minimum is currently 8 kW)
  • Integration with biomass boiler based solutions for 100% renewable cooling
  • Over-cooling in conventional systems that solar will have to match

Industry Structure

  • Solarnext (Germany), S.O.L.I.D. (Austria)
  • StiebelEltron (Germany), Hitachi (Japan)
  • Many companies in the sector; market is currently most in Europe
  • Thermax (Pune) have a solar air conditioning plant

Business Opportunities in Solar Thermal

Solar thermal for heating applications is an attractive field for all sizes of businesses and entrepreneurs

Owing to the range of technologies and engineering complexities (from really simple and mature solar water heaters to relatively complex CST), the solar thermal sector also caters to a wide range of entrepreneurs – be they folks who have commodity installation skills to those who can undertake high-end R&D into aspects such as small-scale CST.
Thus, opportunities exist for small, medium and large businesses in

  • R&D
  • Manufacturing
  • Installation
  • Operations & Maintenance

Except in the case of the low-end solar water heater sector, solar thermal for heating applications sector is a sector with relatively less competition. It also is a sector where significant amounts of innovation could be designed even with reasonable amounts of R&D unlike in solar PV where significant improvements in technology will require research investments in billions of dollars.

Solar Mango thus opines that this sector is ideal for those entrepreneurs and businesses who would like to work with companies in the manufacturing and process industries, and have inclinations to do innovations in design and engineering, with specific expertise in process and thermal domains.

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