Solar energy: expect the unexpected

Learn how countries in colder or wetter climates are using solar in ways unexpected – with resounding success.

The colder the better.

Trygve Mongstad is a researcher at the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) in Norway innovating solar production in colder climates. Mongstad and his team are exploring the effect of high temperatures on solar production. According to his research, high temperatures cause the atoms in substances (electrons in the panels) to vibrate and this agitation of the electrons slows down the production and transportation of the energy. Therefore, wind and especially wind chill are important factors in creating the perfect environment for solar energy production.

While solar energy production has resulted in success in these higher latitudes, there’s still lots of work to be done to better utilise sunshine during their low-light, short-day winter seasons and to also better use solar-tracking to harness sunshine across the varying sun path in summer.

Ongoing research across Russia, Sweden, Norway and even into the Baltic regions hope to improve solar technology and year-round production of renewable energy.

A social transition.

Germany has been the top photovoltaic installer for a number of years and is leading the European renewable-energy bandwagon having announced their plans to move away from nuclear energy production completely by 2022, and, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050 at least.

The Energiewende Germany is powered predominantly by communities and citizens with small investors driving more than 50 per cent of the country’s renewable shift in 2013 alone. The country is even exporting surplus energy to neighbouring countries thanks to being able to produce more energy than what they need. Their final investment into traditional energy plants is in dismantling and taking them down.

The Germans are massively invested in the uptake and measurement of solar production across Europe and the Middle East. Their current projections predict that solar energy is to become the cheapest source of energy across most regions by 2025. Further to this and thanks to technological advancements, solar power is already cost effective in sunny regions like Dubai, and even in projects still under construction in Brazil and Uruguay.

Make hay when it’s overcast.

The United Kingdom is renowned for its heavily overcast and rainy weather, but they’re still taking advantage of the power of solar. Their long summer days and increasingly sunny summers are helping this small country break solar records.

Renewable energy across the UK is seeing significant growth trends in the right direction. Solar photovoltaic production increased by 41 per cent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the first quarter of 2014, largely due to increased capacity and now holding a 26 per cent share of total energy capacity.

As solar panels are still able to produce power when it’s overcast (albeit at a reduced percentage), it’s still sufficient to reduce household and business energy costs by powering things like hot water systems.

Energy smart solutions across the UK see solar and wind-turbine hybrid solutions being installed to ensure that even when the sunshine goes missing, wind energy can still be harvested to supplement household energy usage.

Bridging the divide.

In the first quarter of 2015, China managed to install a gigawatt shy of what was installed across the entire US in 2014. In this time, China beat their 2015 target adding 5GW of production power to their network. This rapid adoption of solar is set to place China ahead of Germany in cumulative and annual installed capacity.

The greatest challenge for the Chinese remains getting the solar infrastructure connected to the grid. Dependencies on grid operators who are reluctant to support the initiatives continue to plague the solar rollout.

Solar Energy is no longer a ‘what if’ debate. The technology continues to peak and ongoing innovation in harvesting and storing solar technology is driving forward the opportunity for smarter, always on solar energy production, regardless of climate and latitude.