Latest news: 2017

Research providing answers to complex questions on the changes in the energy sector

5.6.2017 11:34

The goal for Finland is to make 50% of consumed energy renewable with 55% energy self-sufficiency by 2030. The Finnish Meteorological Institute carries out various kinds of research and develops services to make renewable energy more effective.

Photo: Eija Vallinheimo

Photo: Eija Vallinheimo

In the recent Paris Climate Agreement, countries around the world committed to limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era. In practice, it means that the emissions of greenhouse gases warming the climate must be reduced quickly, as the current shared goals only limit the increase in temperature by 2.7 to 3°C.

The cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to conserve energy and increase energy efficiency. Greenhouse gas emissions can also be reduced by increasing the use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy originates from the sun, wind, water, biomasses, and heat stored in the soil. At the moment, about a quarter of the energy in Finland is produced with renewable energy sources. Currently, Finland is already one of the top countries in Europe when it comes to the use of renewable energy, but the production of renewable energy will certainly be increased in Finland, too. "I am sure that there is a big change coming in the energy system, in production as well as consumption, in the next ten years", states Anders Lindfors, Research Professor at the Finnish Meteorological Institute. In the Government's new National Energy and Climate Strategy, Finland's new long-term goal is an energy system that relies heavily on sources of renewable energy. "We need scientific research data to discover and develop functional energy solutions", says Lindfors.

Renewable energy production requires predictive data

One challenge in the production of renewable energy is that produced amounts change according to weather conditions. In traditional power plants, output rates remain stable despite weather conditions. Solar and wind power require investing in the prediction of electricity production. The Finnish Meteorological Institute is currently researching and developing energy forecasts based on weather prediction models.

Predicting energy production and weather relies heavily on numerical weather forecast models. A weather forecast model is a computational programme that simulates the behaviour of the atmosphere from a certain starting point using the laws of physics. The model includes all variables essential for the production of wind and solar energy, the most important being solar radiation and wind velocity. Based on the weather forecast produced by the model, we can for example calculate how much wind or solar electricity a specific plant would produce in the weather conditions predicted by the model. This kind of production foresight is important for the operation of the electrical network and the energy market.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute also researches applying probability predictions for energy weather forecasts. Unlike a traditional forecast, a probability forecast provides a distribution of the likely development of the weather. For example, the probability forecast can tell us that tomorrow's weather in Helsinki is between 1 and 6°C with a probability of 80%. The data on the uncertainty of the prediction is also important for the electricity market.

Northern conditions bring additional challenges

There are more ways weather can influence the production of renewable energy. Due to the northern location of Finland, a wind power forecast must include wind velocity but also the icing atmospheric conditions. For instance, if the blades of a wind power plant become coated with ice, their surface becomes coarser, therefore deteriorating aerodynamic properties. Consequently, the air current separates from the blade causing production losses and safety risks. Larger amounts of ice can also cause a plant shutdown. To ensure electricity production regardless of weather conditions, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has developed an icing forecast for wind power to help prepare for the situations that will complicate production.

Snowy conditions have an effect on the production of solar energy, too. Snow accumulating on the surface of a solar panel effectively blocks radiation from reaching the panel, reducing the production of solar energy. On the other hand, a snowy surface reflects solar radiation effectively, which may cause vertically installed solar panels to produce more energy when there is snow than in snow-free conditions. "At the moment, we are researching the effects of weather and environmental conditions on solar energy production more extensively with the help of a special solar energy plant built for the Meteorological Institute", reports Finnish Meteorological Institute researcher Pirkko Pylkkö.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute has also shared its wind energy expertise abroad, for example in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Arctic Circle in Russia. "Above all, we have provided information on wind measurements, wind energy production analyses and wind as an energy source", tells Jenni Latikka, Head of Group at the Finnish Meteorological institute.

Exact data on production potential required

In 2009, the Finnish Meteorological Institute produced the Finnish Wind Atlas reporting the wind conditions in Finland. Using weather models, the Atlas mapped Finnish wind conditions on land and sea. Since then, the Atlas has been used in Finland for regional planning, defining a feed-in tariff and, of course, for discovering potential wind power areas. The Finnish Wind Atlas has contributed to the recent increase in wind energy with a yearly growth of about 50% in the 2010s.

"In the same way, the renewable energy market needs a Solar Atlas for the production of solar energy. At the moment, there is no precise data available on the long-term average regional distribution of solar energy in Finland. Using the satellite products and ground measurements of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, we could produce a Solar Atlas that would contain more specific and reliable data on the geographic distribution of solar radiation and the potential of solar energy in Finland. It would promote more specific planning of solar energy systems and therefore support investment decisions and the development of the entire solar energy sector in Finland", states Anders Lindfors, Research Professor at the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Bioenergy emissions under research

The Finnish Meteorological Institute also produces information on how the production of bioenergy would affect climate emissions. It has been long assumed that the bioenergy produced using wood, field plants and biodegradable waste is carbon neutral since biomass such as wood or field plants absorbs carbon from the atmosphere as it renews. However, this reasoning is partly debatable because, in the short term, burning wood releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and to prevent climate change, emissions need to be reduced rapidly. "This is why the potential energy use of wood for reducing Finnish carbon emissions should be evaluated carefully; different kind of wood release carbon at different rates", summarises Jari Liski, Research Professor at the Finnish Meteorological Institute. "For the climate, burning wood is not always carbon neutral. The choices and energy production solutions we make now will shape our future for decades to come; that is why we need to base our decisions on reliable data", remarks Liski.