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The bright future of solar power

Solar production is growing rapidly. The first large solar farms are in operation, and many more are under construction or in the design phase.

Ilmatar has taken big steps in its solar power projects. The company has over a decade of experience in wind power construction, but it now wants to add solar power to its production mix.

“The demand for emission-free domestic electricity has increased. Solar panels have come down in price, and solar energy production has also become profitable in Finland,” explains Elina Kärkimaa, Head of Solar Engineering.

She says that solar and wind power support each other: when there is no wind, the sun often shines, and vice versa. Solar and wind power projects also share some similarities. There are also differences, as solar farm projects usually have a lighter administrative burden due to their lower environmental impacts. For the same reason, solar farms usually do not encounter strong resistance.

Breathing new life into a former airport

Ilmatar’s first project is a five-megawatt solar power plant in Joroinen. The vicinity of an airfield provided the required area without any other land use pressure.

According to Kärkimaa, the people of Joroinen have been positive towards the solar farm project, and cooperation with stakeholders has gone well. A further key factor is cooperation with the transmission system operator.

Ilmatar owns its power plant projects from start to finish, throughout the entire life cycle. The company also operates in Sweden, so it has accumulated knowledge from various practices.

“Renewable energy projects are developed in cooperation with network operators”, says Head of Solar Engineering Elina Kärkimaa from Ilmatar.

“In Finland, renewable energy projects are developed in cooperation with network operators. Dialogue is extremely important. The project risks can be reduced when the costs are predictable and we know whether new capacity can be connected to the network or whether other projects will be built in the area.”

Kärkimaa also sees solar power as a significant opportunity for Eastern Finland, where there are more restrictions on wind power construction due to airspace surveillance.

Ilmatar has tested technical solutions and gained practical experience in Joroinen. The company’s next projects will be much larger, including solar farms rated at over 100 megawatts.

Larger-scale solar power production is a new development for Finland, which is relatively late in adopting industrial-scale solar power by international comparison due to its northern location.

”Solar power is relatively simple, but it carries its own kinds of risks due to the high number of components – one cannot afford systematic failures. Sustainable exploitation of solar energy requires high quality and good planning. We can benefit from the world-wide solar PV experience here in Finland.”

Wind and sun in hybrid power farms

Helen is also adding solar power to its production mix. The company already has a 1.5 megawatt peak solar farm in Nurmijärvi, with a 10 megawatt peak solar farm in Lohja and a 206 megawatt peak solar farm in Kalanti still to come.

“Connectivity is a key criterion when considering solar farm locations”, says Senior Manager Jari Kottonen from Helen.

“Wind and solar power are important aspects of Helen’s profitable green transition,” says Jari Kottonen, Senior Manager.

He also says that wind and solar power complement each other well. The Juurakko hybrid power plant in Kalajoki is a concrete example: wind and solar power are produced using a shared electricity network infrastructure. Helen owns the wind farm in the area, while Solarigo Systems Oy is responsible for the solar power plant.

“Solar and wind power production go so well together that a hybrid plant can be made using a single connection. A hybrid regulator prevents the plant from exceeding the maximum power agreed upon with Fingrid.”

Helen’s wind farm in Lakiakangas, Ostrobothnia, is complemented by a battery energy storage facility. This combined plant also uses a single grid connection.

“Connectivity is a key criterion when considering solar farm locations.”

That is why requesting a grid connectivity statement is one of the first steps in such a project. Kottonen says that in practice, they ask Fingrid’s contact person for an opinion before the official round of statements.

Solar power as a reserve

As the amount of weather-dependent energy production grows, it is increasingly exploited in the reserve market to balance electricity production and consumption.

Solar power can provide down-regulation – in other words, it can reduce the production power it feeds into the grid – without limiting its initial production level. Up-regulation is also possible if the power output can be increased upon request. Battery energy storage facilities can also be built at solar farms to support flexibility.

Providing balancing capacity in the reserve markets can be a good deal for solar power producers. The requirements of reserve markets should be considered at an early stage to ensure that the technical implementation or different production agreement structures do not constrain the plant’s reserve capacity.

Emission-free electricity

Fingrid estimates that solar power will provide nine terawatt hours of electricity in Finland in 2030. The reform seeks to enhance the development of flexible, fossil-free resources. In 2022, emission-free electricity already accounted for over 90 per cent of the electricity produced in Finland.

The pace of change imposes requirements on the development of the power system. Before a solar farm can be connected to the power system, the capacity of the relevant section of the grid must be studied and plans must be prepared to connect the production to the grid.

According to Aki Laurila, Manager, Power System Engineering at Fingrid, solar power plants can be commissioned quickly in some parts of the grid, but additional construction may be required elsewhere.

Laurila emphasises the importance of communication and encourages project developers to contact Fingrid in the early planning stages.


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