Substitutes for fossil fuels are constantly being sought and alternative forms of energy are being developed with a view to eventually replacing fossil fuels altogether. Solar power is one of the most promising options, but it has its limitations.
In this article, we explain what photovoltaics is, what its role is in electricity generation, its environmental impact and how it could be used more efficiently in the future.
What is photovoltaic power?
Solar photovoltaics is based on converting the sun's radiant energy into electricity or heat. Solar radiation energy consists of tiny particles, called photons, which release electrons from the semiconductor material of the solar cell. The intensity of the radiation affects the production of solar energy in that, as the intensity of the radiation increases, the photons cause more electrons to be released from the semiconductor material used in the cell. In Finland, this means that more solar electricity can be produced in summer than in winter.
Benefits and drawbacks of solar power
With solar power, everyone can produce some of the energy they use, for example at home, in their summer cottage or caravan. As a form of energy production, solar energy is emission-free, i.e. completely clean from an environmental point of view. Of course, materials and energy are needed to manufacture solar cells, but the production of solar electricity by means of the cell itself is emission-free and noise-free. Solar cells are suitable for home, summer cottage and industrial use. Solar cells are also used in space-based technical devices such as satellites and space probes. The lifetime of a solar panel is around 20-25 years.
The use of solar energy requires initial investment, but the price of solar cells has fallen significantly in recent years and the product range has diversified. The investment in solar cells will pay for itself within a reasonable period of time, even years. The systems used in solar panels require little maintenance and have a long lifetime. If you buy a good quality panel, you will still be recovering more than 80 % of your energy 25 years after purchase.
Environmental impacts of solar power
As mentioned above, the production of solar energy itself does not generate emissions. However, there are so-called indirect emissions from the production, storage, transport and installation of the panels. The cells are made of relatively rare and expensive materials. Solar energy can generally only be used during the brightest hours of the day and during the time of year when there is sufficient sunshine. The availability of solar energy varies from one part of the world to another, so it is always worth taking regional location into account when assessing the availability of solar power.
Solar panels are made from minable materials such as silicon. Other materials such as steel, aluminium and silicone are also needed. When assessing the environmental burden of panel manufacturing, it is important to consider where the electricity used in the manufacturing process comes from. Europe generally uses environmentally cleaner electricity than Asia, where coal-fired power is still relatively widespread.
Solar panel manufacturers can influence the carbon footprint of their products, but from the consumer's perspective, assessing the environmental impact is usually challenging. The most environmentally friendly panels are usually those that are produced locally and whose installation is ordered from a local professional.
The role and future of solar power in Finland and the world
The prevailing conditions in Finland are relatively suitable for the production and use of solar electricity, but the share of solar power in electricity generation is still very small. Despite this, some electricity companies offer fully solar-powered electricity for sale. electricity contracts.
Finland imports a lot of electricity from abroad, so solar power is also a potential alternative in Finland if it is used to replace more expensive imported electricity. Payback periods vary, so it is best to use the warranty period of the solar panel as a basis for calculating the payback period. This is typically 25 years. The energy subsidy from the Ministry of Employment and the Economy is also an important support for companies and organisations that can help them to purchase equipment for solar energy production.
Among the world's biggest solar power producers are Asian powerhouses such as China and Japan, the US in the Americas and Germany in Europe. Southern European countries Italy, Spain and France also rank well in a global comparison. In Finland, solar energy production is even higher in mid-summer than in Central Europe, but on the other hand, production is low in the dark months of autumn and winter. Measured in kilowatt-hours, solar radiation energy in southern Finland is about 1 000 kWh per square metre per year. Increasing the share of solar electricity in the future is also possible in Finland and, together with other forms of green energy production, can significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels.