Plenty of Room

Outside cities are industrial zones and outside industrial zones is farmland with plenty of room for solar fields.

When talking opportunities for solar heated industrial processes, a comment I often get is that the potential users usually do not have land available for a solar field and that solutions therefore need to be designed for rooftop installations.

But heat production doesn’t need to take place in the same place as consumption. Existing district heating networks transport low-temperature heat over distances of more than 60 km. In Belgium, a consortium is right now commissioning a 5 km pipeline for transporting steam at 400ºC/750ºF, where costs can be calculated to increase the total cost of heat with less than 1% per transported kilometer if fully utilized for 25 years.

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So rooftops are not needed if land is available within a reasonable distance. And there’s lots of land available. Looking at aerial photos of cities anywhere in the world they are all laid out the same way: Cities have industrial zones in their periphery and on the other side of the industrial zones are plenty of farmland.

Three possible use cases are shown below where I’ve marked areas required for Heliac‘s solar fields to provide a meaningful amount of energy for industrial process heat; turning saltwater into potable water to help alleviate Cape Town’s water scarcity (requiring 85ºC), heat for production of Heineken in Mexico (35ºC-77ºC), and finally heat for drying paint on all the cars at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California once it is running at its full capacity of 500,000 cars per year (155ºC-215ºC).

Please note these are just illustrations. I am not an expert in beer brewing, desalination, nor paint shops. I have not talked to the mentioned companies about this. All numbers for the energy consumption of each of these processes are found or deducted from different sources available on the internet (see references below for details). And should be trusted accordingly.
If the illustrations fulfill their purpose, then you might now be thinking something like “hmmm…. that could actually be doable”. If you additionally are thinking “maybe this should not always be sold as solar fields to the Heinekens’ and Tesla’s of this world. Rather, this is a job for infrastructure funds who’d love to generate steady, long-term income from selling sustainable, inexpensive energy” then I tend to agree.
Business models and government policies that can support such an infrastructure approach are the subjects of my next article.

Interested in reading more? Please see the links to my other articles below. Additionally, a ‘Like’ from you will also be much appreciated as this should help direct more attention at the many business and climate opportunities the market for heat production offers.

Thank you for reading,

Jakob Jensen

HEAT is a series of non-technical, easy-read 3-minutes articles looking at heat’s role in energy production, its environmental impact, technologies for sustainable large-scale heat production, and some of the business opportunities these solutions generate.
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