Sticking Solar Where The Sun Don’t Shine

Solar energy in Oulu Finland

Finland is about to see its biggest solar power system constructed – and it will be installed in a region that receives very little sunlight during the winter months.

Finland’s national public-broadcasting company, YLE, reports the array will consist of 1,600 solar panels producing 420 kilowatts of power. It will be installed on the roof of printing plant in the city of Oulu.

At 420kW, it’s not huge by some standards, but marks the real start of the nation’s solar revolution and will help further cement Oulu’s reputation as a pioneer in the use of renewables.

During the winter months, Oulu only experiences 3.5 hours of sunlight per day in total – but in summer, this system will really crank; taking advantage of the region’s comparatively cool conditions and 20 hours per day of sunlight.

Being so far north, a solar plant in Oulu might seem like a nutty idea. However, a pilot project by city-owned Oulun Energia Group – the company leading the Kaleva project – demonstrated a properly installed 5-kilowatt system could generate levels of electricity similar to  a system in northern Germany.

“On a clear summer day, we expect to gain up to 90 percent of the electricity required to run the Kaleva printing operations via solar. Annually, the solar energy obtained should cover about 10 percent of the printing house’s electricity costs,” said Kaleva’s CFO Esko Jokelainen.

System installation will begin this month and it’s expected the array will be operational by June this year.

Oulu has a population of around 200,000 and is one of the northernmost larger cities in the world. Its focus on tinkering with new technologies has translated to it having the fifth highest R&D per capita spending in Europe.

According to Statistics Finland, renewables made up 32% of total primary energy consumption in the nation in 2014. Renewable energy sources used in Finland include hydro and wind power, solar energy, aerothermal energy and ground heat captured by heat pumps, biogas, biodegradable components of recovered and waste fuels, wood-based fuels, and other plant and animal-based fuels.

The use of fossil fuels in Finland reduced by seven per cent last year compared to 2013, which raised the share of renewable energy by one percentage point.

Preliminary data from Statistics Finland states total energy consumption in 2014 came to approximately 1,340 petajoules (PJ), or around 372 terawatt hours (TWh); more than two per cent less than in 2013 – primarily due to warmer weather.