2/2016

Solar revolution is upon us

Solar power use is increasing at a rapid rate. A newly launched research project gathers information on solar power to help Finnish companies thrive in the international competition.

Seppo Valkealahti

 

The roof of TUT’s Department of Electrical Engineering houses solar panels and measurement equipment. “One of the objectives of the ‘Finnish Solar Revolution’ project is to prepare for the future solar power trends and envision new technologies,” says Professor Seppo Valkealahti.

 

Finnish Solar Revolution 1 June 2016–31 August 2018

  • Research project for solar power.
  • Public research with industry ties, a part of the Finnish Government’s key projects.
  • Objective: ensuring that Finnish companies have access to top-notch research knowledge on the key future technologies and business trends related to solar power.
  • Budget of the public research project: 2.5 million euros.
  • Overall budget of the research projects: nearly 10 million euros.
  • Involved parties: TUT, Aalto University, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Aino Energia, Caruna, Convion, Fortum, Eaton, Elenia, MX Electrix, Nocart, Tampereen Sähkölaitos, Tampereen Sähköverkko, Lempäälän Energia.
  • Company-specific research: ABB, Efore, Ensto and Sola Sense.
 

The means of electricity generation are about to be revolutionised. Today, solar energy constitutes as much as a fifth of all new power capacity set up around the world. Another 20% is made up of wind power and another 20% by hydropower. The share of nuclear power plants and plants using fossil fuel is less than a half.

“We are doubling the output capacity of solar power every second year, and solar power is increasing its share faster than the other electricity generation means. This revolution is also about to land in Finland. The level of solar power in our energy plans is on a constant rise,” says Professor Seppo Valkealahti from TUT’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Solar power will change business for energy and grid companies. In future, people will run their own power plants and generate enough energy to cover for most of their consumption. They will only occasionally buy electricity from the grid. Therefore, grid companies must be able to turn round their revenue logic.”

Expedited exports

“The all-new ‘Finnish Solar Revolution’ research project aims to raise awareness among businesses as to the particular characteristics, generation and use of solar power. It also strives to expedite a wider use of solar power. The idea is to support Finnish exports in the energy field in order to help companies thrive in the international competition,” Valkealahti says.

The three-year project is Tekes-funded and falls in the field of public research. It involves three universities and fifteen Finnish energy companies. Four of the companies will run their own parallel projects, involving research and development of prospective new hit products and business concepts for the global solar power market. The project will involve substantial industry collaboration.

Accumulator reserves for rainier days

It is challenging to predict solar power generation capacities. On cloudy days, the capacity ranges between 100% and 20% in seconds. The fluctuation of the input power reaching the grid causes major problems for the electric power system.

“It is imperative that production and consumption in the power system are balanced at all times. Today, this is achieved by adjusting production according to the prevailing consumption. With the focus on solar and wind power, another way must be found to maintain the balance. This is a major challenge we still need to overcome,” Valkealahti says.

One key method for managing the inbound power to the grid is to use accumulator reserves.

“When temporarily storing electricity generated through solar power in an accumulator, it is possible to feed electricity in the grid even when not generated by the solar power plant itself. We are studying the electric properties of accumulators and possible ways to back up the operation of solar power plants and power systems with accumulator reserves.”

In the project, TUT’s accumulator expertise is utilised by companies such as ABB, which is looking to notably boost its inverter business area in solar power plants.

Unique data repository

The roof of TUT’s Department of Electrical Engineering houses solar panels and measurement equipment. For five years now, researchers have utilised this research station for measuring solar radiation intensity ten times a second, along with all weather variables, such as wind velocity.

“We have accumulated a vast measurement data repository, unique in scope. By analysing the data, we can look into the impacts of alternating weather conditions on solar power plant operation.”

Introducing a new research area: monitoring

The project has introduced a brand-new research area at TUT: solar power plant monitoring and optimisation. The area is studied together with Sola Sense, a supplier of wireless data transfer and analysis methods for measurement data.

“A solar power plant features no movable parts and it is the best generation method for electricity as to its technical reliability and the fact that it is maintenance-free. Individual solar panels may undergo failures or get dirty, however, and these occurrences are currently difficult to monitor without inducing excessive costs. This is something we are hoping to solve through new and innovative wireless solutions,” Valkealahti notes.

Text: Leena Koskenlaakso
Photo: Mika Kanerva

 
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