Solar cell revolution

Solar cell revolution

January 25, 2012

New technology makes it possible to use solar cell modules in the High North too.

The solar cell park in Piteå in the north of Sweden is a living example of this. It has been constructed for research purposes, but the hope is that good results will tempt business and industry to invest in solar energy in the north too.

The project is based on a simple idea: it is possible to capture more light by tracking the sun’s movement than if the panels remain in a passive state on the ground.

By applying this principle in the north, solar energy can be harvested in an effective manner here too.

In this way, the solar cell modules in Piteå are capturing just as much light as solar cell modules in Freiburg in the south of Germany. A solar tracking system was first attempted in Narvik in 2009, but because Piteå has far more sunshine days the experiment was moved to Sweden.

Commercial initiative

“If we can demonstrate that this is cost-effective, there is nothing preventing a massive development of solar power plants in the north,” says Research Director Tobias Boström at Norut Narvik.

Solar cells are already used in Norway in lighthouses as far north as 70 °N, and are also in use in Antarctica. The hope now is a large-scale commercial initiative.

The first evaluation of the project in Piteå will be completed in 2012. Norut is also planning several similar solar cell parks in Narvik and around Bottenviken in Sweden, although these are not yet confirmed.

Locating such panels in the north has another advantage. The actual systems function more effectively at lower temperatures.

Lacking data

But there are also challenges. First and foremost, snow and ice on the modules will create problems. And before such a development can start, a comprehensive mapping of the solar conditions is required.

“The latitude in itself is really of little significance if a solar tracking system is used,” says Boström. “A lot of clear weather, topography that does not produce shade and the possibility of reflection from water or snow are important factors.”

These are among the things the scientists at Norut will study in more detail in the future.

The problem for the time being is a lack of data on the area. Several databases contain data on solar irradiation, but there is insufficient data for northern areas, as there as so few stations where measurements are recorded.

“Norut has started the process of getting more stations to measure solar irradiation in northern areas, but we would like more collaboration partners in the area,” says Boström.

(This article was published in the printed edition of the newspaper Nordlys on 23.1.2012 and is published here with the newspaper’s approval.)