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Arctic solar energy solutions
01 June 2012
Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)
Solar energy installations in Northern Europe mostly consist of small independent PV systems and solar heat collectors integrated to hot water supply of a household. Some larger solar heat plants are in use and have been planned in Northern Europe. Combined heat and power (CHP) solar energy systems are very rare because the concept is challenging but very interesting due to heating needs in the Northern countries. More research in this field is needed and especially in high temperature solar cells to increase possibilities for use of CHP in PV solar plants.
Although solar irradiation is lower in Northern Europe, the difference to central Europe is not large as is commonly believed. The real reason for high PV capacity in Germany compared to e.g. Finland is the feed-in tariff system, not the actual difference in irradiation. Solar heat collectors together with regular heating systems can decrease heating costs in some cases. Prices of solar panels have decreased but PV panel prices in Finland do not appear to reflect global market prices.
Photovoltaic solar energy production integration to energy system poses some challenges. One of the challenges is maximum power tracking of PV panels in power conversion devices to be able to operate at maximum available efficiency on different conditions. Grid protection reliability can suffer from distributed generation units and personal safety issues. Due the fact that solar production is concentrated to summer months and that production fluctuates also daily, there is a limit to how much solar production can be connected to the grid. One option could be to use energy storages to balance plant output but batteries are still too expensive for this. Heat storages are cheaper and they can be used in large solar thermal plants which generate electricity from solar heated steam turning turbines.