Solar energy: expect the unexpected

How do countries in colder or wetter climates use solar in ways unexpected – with resounding success?

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.

Solar power in colder climates

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 – 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 Baltic regions hope to improve solar technology and year-round production of renewable energy.

Support of renewable energy in Germany

A social transition

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

The Energiewende Germany is powered predominantly by communities and citizens with small investors driving more than 50% of the country’s renewable shift in 2013 alone. The country is even exporting surplus energy to neighbouring countries, thanks to its ability to produce more energy than what it needs. The 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, thanks to technological advancements, solar power is already cost-effective in sunny cities like Dubai and projects are under construction in coutnries like Brazil and Uruguay.

Investment in solar production continues to grow

Make hay when it’s overcast

The United Kingdom is renowned for its heavily overcast and rainy weather, but it’s still taking advantage of the power of solar. Long, increasingly sunny summer days help this small country break solar records.

Renewable energy across the UK is seeing significant growth. Solar photovoltaic production increased by 41% in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the first quarter of 2014. This was largely due to increased capacity, now holding a 26% 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 it’s not sunny, 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 China is 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.