Middle East is a hot spot in renewables market

Denis Avery from Solahart International Australia.

Solahart international business development manager Denis Avery
Solahart international business development manager Denis Avery

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Solahart international business development manager Denis Avery visited the UAE, where distributor Ecoval Trading LLC was recognised as the Australian company’s number one distributor in 2009.

Solahart CEO Matt Sexton presented Ecoval Trading LLC MD Jim Sebastian with a special commemorative award during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. The award also highlights the importance of this region to the Australian manufacturer of solar hot water heating systems.

“The Middle East is, and has been, recognised by our company as one of the leading regions globally to recognise the importance of renewable products. This is one of the top three regions that our company will be investing in long-term into the future,” says Avery.

This is largely because Avery argues that market penetration of Solahart in the region is unaffected by a general mindset not yet fully attuned to energy saving. “In today’s world, people are far better informed towards energy saving and design. Here in the UAE I have seen a major shift in focus towards energy conservation. That is why we see a proliferation of companies trying to tap into this market.”

And the low cost of energy in the region? “One cannot factor in the low cost of energy in the region as being behind a lack of support for renewables. What I see in the majority of markets is the willingness of the public to utilise renewables for other reasons, which just goes to show that price is not everything,” says Avery. An interesting development in this regard is the possibility of solar heating companies being formed, on the same basis as district cooling companies, but to distribute hot water.

Major driver

A major driver of this trend is Dubai’s anticipated ‘green’ building regulations, which are expected to make solar hot water heating mandatory for large-scale users such as hotels. “Obviously from our perspective such initiatives are welcome, and we congratulate the vision shown by such organisations.

“Companies such as ourselves provide support and advice to all aspects of regional and local governments; we also provide education in schools, which will produce our future world leaders. Green sustainability is a major factor in many organisations. However, the pitfalls are great if one launches a business on the back of such initiatives,” warns Avery.

Testament to this approach of longevity and sustainability is that Solahart has had a presence in the region for the past 15 years. It was established in Australia in 1953 when SW Hart & Company began manufacturing storage cylinders for use in conjunction with FC Korwill solar collectors, also an Australian product.

“The company SW Hart stretches back to early days in Perth, when it actually used to manufacture rain water storage tanks for local use. From those humble days we now see Solahart as a global leader in solar water heater manufacture and distribution to 75 countries,” says Avery.

‘Thermosiphon’ principle

The secret behind the Solahart system is the ‘thermosiphon’ principle, which Avery describes as “a natural process for heating water. With Solahart’s design, the cold water enters the solar collectors and gathers heat, which rises to the top of the collectors and raises the temperature of the stored water. This is very similar to how the human heart functions in the body.”

Another important element of the system is the ‘drainback’ concept. “The ‘drainback’ principle is so simple in its function. It ensures our system does not wet stagnate and overheat; the system will also not freeze in winter and dissipate the heat once the sun goes down. In this way we ensure we maximise and harness the sun’s energy to ensure we have hot water in the harshest of environments – from freezing temperatures in China, Korea and Europe to the hot climates in the Middle East, Europe and Australia.”

Indeed, one of Solahart’s main strengths has been supplying systems suited to local climatic conditions. “In this part of the world, one must factor in many conditions when designing a system for a particular project. Our system must be designed to manage the dusty climate in the Middle East; it must also cope with high temperature extremes in the summer months.

One cannot claim to be totally responsible in renewable energy conservation if our design incorporates additional support just to manage overheating. This is not logical in our opinion, and only adds to the cost and technical aspects of any project.”

This emphasis on R&D means a continued focus on innovation, adds Avery. “Our R&D never stops. Our goal is continuous improvement in both design and performance, while we also strive towards new products. No company can, or should, rest on its laurels, as to do so will doom any business. Solahart recognises that in the world we live in, there is always room for improvement, and as such we have a dedicated team of engineers just for this purpose.”

‘Smart’ controls

Some of the R&D trends being pursued by Solahart are ‘smart’ controls and the integration of solar hot water heating systems into BMS. “As the world moves towards carbon trading and investment, such technology will be utilised not only to manage the system via BMS, but it will be a key control to also record and validate system performance,” notes Avery.

Another issue is long-term performance evaluation of installed systems. “We have a database that ensures we contact our valued customers regarding system performance, and if we need to revisit a particular installation to review how the system performs. We have systems in Australia that are over 30 years’ old, and that are still going strong.”

Avery says Solahart has supplied “well over a million systems since 1953” from its manufacturing base in Perth in Western Australia. Despite this, “our capacity is far from being maximised, and we are currently investing in new plant and machinery to streamline the business,” he adds.

The global solar thermal market is dominated by China, Europe, Japan and India at present. “In my personal opinion, China is the largest consumer of renewable solar thermal products by far, followed by Europe and India. Many countries have locally-owned manufacturing facilities, such as China. These are predominantly there to supply the huge local market, which is mainly glass evacuated tube collectors,” says Avery.

Chinese imports

A problem in the Middle East has been the influx of low-cost, lower-quality products from China, for example – with some systems said to be up to 80% cheaper. This has impacted negatively on the overall reputation of the global solar thermal industry, particularly when such systems fail, which raises the entry bar for legitimate manufacturers. An unfortunate side-effect of this then is price resistance.

“Our global distribution network understands such market forces,” asserts Avery. “It is well understood that such so-called cheap products do have a place in such markets as China. Our goal has always been to educate and offer the best, most cost-effective solution. We have done this in markets where other companies fear to tread.

“Price will always be an issue; we at Solahart have been in the solar water heating market for over 50 years. We stand by our product with our global distribution network and high-quality products backed up by a company that recognises its valued customers. With this uppermost in our minds, we deliver our products and services face-to-face, and we back up our products with a worldwide warranty,” says Avery.

Key to this is installation expertise, which is where Ecoval Trading LLC plays such an important role. “This is most vital. Without such expertise, our product is only as good as the installation. Get this wrong, and we will have unhappy customers. Ecoval is part of a global network of businesses ensuring that our world-class products are installed to our exact standards,” says Avery.

As for a final message, Avery says the Middle East’s commitment to renewables and solar hot water heating in particular is part of a global trend to cut carbon emissions and conserve valuable resources. “The world we live in has changed much since 1953 when Solahart first started. We are still here today, operating in a global market that understands the damage that global warming has on our fragile existence. I would say it is vital we all play our part in reducing carbon emissions. By simple measures and actions in our own lives, we can help achieve global environmental sustainability.”

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