Credit: PiteEnergi
Credit: PiteEnergi ©

A collaborative effort between Norway and Sweden in 2012 has demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of using photovoltaic (PV) panels for generating solar power at a solar cell park test site in Pitea, close to the Arctic Circle. The project was designed to incorporate a tracking system for the PV panels to maximize the amount of sunlight hitting the panels. The results from this project showed that using the sun tracking technology in high latitudes can compete with solar facilities in Germany, a well-known leader in solar technology.

Detailed computer simulations showed significant solar potential, which convinced a local energy company in Piteå, PiteEnergi AB, to join the project and set up a solar power plant next to their offices.

The project was located in one of the sunniest regions of Sweden, along the Bay of Bothnia. In this location, the arc of the sun across the sky is widest from northeast to the northwest; therefore, the solar panels were designed to rotate to face the sun at a 90° angle to maximize the amount of sun hitting the panels. Compared to keeping the panels in a fixed position, modules that face the sun at 90° continuously through solar tracking, increase the energy output by as much as 50%.

Another result of the project was learning that the sun-tracking solar panel needs to be a certain size to be cost-effective.

PiteEnergi's test solar farm has also shown that the relatively cold climate can be an advantage since the solar module efficiency increases with decreasing temperatures. In addition, snow can be useful because the glare from snow increases power from its reflectivity, although this must be balanced from the disadvantage of clogging the machinery. The biggest disadvantage, though, are the long nights in the winter.

The solar power plant in Piteå, Sweden is expected to generate 28 MWh annually. The energy will be used to power the offices of PiteEnergi. As soon as data from the Piteå plant is available, the researchers hope to convince the public and investors that large solar power plants at high latitudes are both technically and economically feasible.

This project is a cooperation between the Northern Research Institute (Norway), Kemi-Tornionlaakso Municipal Education and Training Consortium (Finland), Luleå Technical University (Sweden) and PiteEnergi AB (Sweden) and is supported by Nordic Energy Research.

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