Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish researchers are cooperating to prove that solar power in the North is not only possible, but also profitable.

”There are a lot of misconceptions about the possibilities for solar energy in the Nordic countries”, says Tobias Boström, research leader at the Northern Research Institute in Narvik, Norway. ”We actually have a lot of sun, especially around the Baltic Sea”. The weather conditions in the region create a perfect testing site for a high latitude solar power plant.

Boström conceived the idea for the project after discovering that the small Northern town of Piteå enjoys more hours of sun in a year than any other town in Sweden. Located by the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Bothnia and just 100km south of the Arctic Circle, it isn’t the first place one might look to put a solar power plant. However, the Gulf of Bothnia is in fact sunnier than Germany, the largest market for solar power in the world. Detailed computer simulations show significant solar potential, which convinced a local energy company in Piteå, PiteEnergi AB, to join the project and set up the solar power plant next to their offices.

In spite of the high number of sun hours, high latitudes pose some challenges for solar power. Nights are long in the winter, and in the summer the sun’s path over the sky varies a lot. For this reason, a two-axis solar tracking system will be put in operation in Piteå. The system tilts the solar panels so that they always face the sun at a 90-degree angle. This sun tracking technology is not often used in Southern parts of Europe, but gives Northern solar power plants the opportunity to generate energy irrespective of high latitudes. The higher the latitude, the more positive effect from the tracking system.

Because of the cold climate in the Nordic countries, the researchers need to find solutions to problems caused by snow and icing. But the cold Nordic climate can also be an advantage in solar energy production, as the efficiency of the solar panels increases with lower temperatures.

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.