Do solar cells work in a Nordic climate?

Polar solar

Solar cells

Photo: Pixabay
Solar panels work very well in the cold and even snow, as long as they aren’t covered by snow or opaque ice.

Christina Benjaminsen
NTNU Gemini

In recent years, the price of solar cells has fallen so dramatically that more and more people are now looking to invest in solar panels. These can be installed either as free-standing structures on roofs, or as integrated components of construction modules such as roof slates or façade panels.

Traditionally, solar cells have been economically viable in countries with high electricity prices. Today, however, solar-generated electricity has become competitive even in Norway, despite the country’s inexpensive hydroelectricity.

This has encouraged researchers to look into how effective solar cells really are under Norwegian climatic conditions. And, so far, the results are promising.

“Our experiments show that solar cells function very well under Nordic climate and weather conditions,” says Research Manager Eivind Øvrelid at SINTEF, a research organization headquartered in Trondheim. “Moreover, computations made by the European Technology and Innovation Platform PV (ETIP-PV/etip-pv.eu) show that it is economically viable to invest in solar-generated electricity from day one, provided you consume the electricity yourself,” he says. (PV stands for “photovoltaic,” Ed.)

“This assumes that we’re talking about a plant of about 1 MWp, and that interest rates hold their current levels,” says Øvrelid.

A self-evident solution?
To find out how non-reliant solar cells are on clear weather and sunshine to generate electricity, researchers at SINTEF have installed the technology in a climate chamber. Normally, such chambers are used to test the robustness of materials such as window claddings and other construction materials in harsh weather conditions.

Output from the solar cell panels is tested under different temperatures, light rain, heavy rain, snow, and situations in which ice forms on the panels.

The climate chamber is fitted with ceiling lamps that simulate solar radiation, making it possible to conduct experiments using entirely constant levels of illumination, while varying the weather conditions.

“It was important to us to establish a reference value for solar radiation in order to ensure that conditions were identical during all our experiments,” explains Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) student Gina Opstad Andersen. “For this reason, we connected up a solar cell fitted with a sensor that made it possible to calculate the level of radiation that the cells were exposed to in the chamber,” she says. Andersen took part in the experiments as part of her master’s studies at NTNU and was responsible for constructing the test apparatus.

A self-evident solution?
To find out how non-reliant solar cells are on clear weather and sunshine to generate electricity, researchers at SINTEF have installed the technology in a climate chamber. Normally, such chambers are used to test the robustness of materials such as window claddings and other construction materials in harsh weather conditions.

Output from the solar cell panels is tested under different temperatures, light rain, heavy rain, snow, and situations in which ice forms on the panels.

The climate chamber is fitted with ceiling lamps that simulate solar radiation, making it possible to conduct experiments using entirely constant levels of illumination, while varying the weather conditions.

“It was important to us to establish a reference value for solar radiation in order to ensure that conditions were identical during all our experiments,” explains Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) student Gina Opstad Andersen. “For this reason, we connected up a solar cell fitted with a sensor that made it possible to calculate the level of radiation that the cells were exposed to in the chamber,” she says. Andersen took part in the experiments as part of her master’s studies at NTNU and was responsible for constructing the test apparatus.

A solar power station in Svalbard?
When either snow or opaque ice covers solar panels, this results in a distinct shadow effect. So, the advice to owners is to keep your panels clear of snow. If opaque ice forms on a panel it may be a good idea to melt it using lukewarm water.

“But whatever you do, don’t try to scrape it off,” says Øvrelid. “This could damage the solar cell.” He also recommends that the cells be given a thorough cleaning twice a year. Both chimney soot and airborne dust from roads have been shown to reduce the panels’ efficiency.

Solar cell researchers at SINTEF now want to launch a new project to look into solar cells as possible sources of electricity in Svalbard. The challenge here is to find an effective way of storing the surplus energy.

This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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