Solar thermal technologies are very flexible and can adapt to a wide range of situations and can be used on small and large scale. This technology is mainly used for: 1) domestic hot water and space heating, 2) district heating, 3) industrial process heat, and 4) air conditioning and cooling.
Solar thermal systems are used in all continents, including the Antarctica. Solar thermal must be clearly distinguished from two other renewable energy technologies using the sun directly – Photovoltaic and Concentrated Solar Power – both of which provide electricity, while solar thermal provides heating and cooling.
Most of the solar thermal systems in use today are related to low-temperature heat demand in buildings: providing hot water and space heating. The solar thermal heat can be produced on-site for individual houses or delivered via a district heating network. For industrial processes, solar thermal systems are well suited for generating low temperature heat up to 150°C. There are well-known applications of solar thermal heat in breweries, mining, agriculture (crops drying) or textile sector. Furthermore, over 150 large-scale SHIP systems are documented worldwide ranging from 0.35 MWth to 27.5 MWth (39,300 m²). Solar cooling is also suitable for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial use. One of the technologies used for cooling purposes are thermally-driven chillers which use thermal energy to cool down gases or fluids. This thermal energy can be provided by different technologies, including solar thermal energy.