Denmark is killing it right now. I recently spent three weeks on a trip to Europe and was able to discover it first hand. They deliver cheap renewable heat from a very unsunny place.
I was met at the hotel by my host company for a tour of their factory and district heating plants. EnergyAE has been investigating the implementation of large-scale solar industrial process heating for the Australian climate. We were led to Europe to find the biggest in the world. Denmark has some key factors that have driven the technology. Denmark has little domestic fossil fuels, and the have a long history of centralised heating networks. Solar Thermal using flat plate collectors can often plug directly into their existing thermal infrastructure using the existing storage and fossil based backup plant. The solar field we visited was 15,000m2 of collector area or equivalent to about 10MW of heating on a good day. It produced about 20% of the towns requirement. Each collector is 12.5m2 each and are very neatly laid out using a crane.
It works in northern Europe because the public has a constant need for heat. Unlike industrial factories, there is no doubt the town will still be there in 30 years so it makes the investment much less risky for slow returns. Here at EnergyAE are madly working out how to apply easily this technology to industrial processes.