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Here comes the sun

With oil prices historically high and worries about global warming, greater attention is being paid to renewable energy potential. Take solar energy, for instance, which is already used for water heating and cooling systems.

In 1999-2000, an average of two million square metres of solar collectors for such direct energy use were installed in member countries of the International Energy Agency, a sister organisation of the OECD.

The largest producers of solar hot water technologies are the US, Japan and Turkey. Together they account for more than 80% of direct use of solar heat in IEA countries. However, 87% of the solar collectors installed in IEA countries in 1999-2000 were in Austria, Germany, Japan and the US.

Warmer countries are particularly suited to direct solar technology, and Greece nearly doubled its number of solar heating systems from 1.8 million in 1990 to more than 3 million in 2001. Solar thermal heating is expensive, however, with the labour cost of installation being especially high. Some countries now offer subsidies. For instance, the government of Western Australia offers up to AUS$1,000 off the cost of installing solar hot water systems. As for electricity generation, technology has further to go. Production is almost exclusively in the US, and the only commercial-scale solar thermal electric projects, installed in California from1984 to 1990, fell victim to the unpredictable business environment for this kind of technology.

OECD/IEA (2004), Energy: Market and Policy Trends in IEA countries.

See also “Renewables”, in OECD Observer No 233, August 2002.

©OECD Observer No 248, March 2005