Building a case for solar energy


The power of solar is set to be the norm in construction. Finnair Cargo wants to make the most of this sustainable source of energy. 

Take a moment to ponder the year-round possibilities for solar power here in Northern Europe. Sure, while the long summer daylight would seemingly be a source of bountiful energy, how about the chillier months, then?

“There are solar opportunities in wintertime,” insists Tapio Ritvonen, research team leader, VTT Technical Research Center of Finland. “I have results from [energy company] Oulun Energia, which has solar panels on walls. They produce more energy than the nominal value in January, in minus 25 degrees.”

This is attributed to the fact that solar panels actually harvest sunlight – not heat – and also produce more electricity when they are cold than warm. Furthermore, there is nothing present in the clear air that time of year that would block photons between solar panels and the sun.

Sourcing the sun

While silicon solar panels traditionally have been tucked away out of sight on rooftops, the advent of thin printed solar cells is now giving rise to a whole new approach to harnessing solar in construction.

Lightweight and easy to install, printed solar cells can be placed strategically on building facades to enable optimal exposure to sunlight.

“Silicon panels actually cannot harvest energy with good efficiency when placed in a vertical position,” Ritvonen explains. “The optimal angle of light for silicon panels varies +/- 15 degrees, whereas the angle of radiation with printed solar cells is less critical. Also, the environmental impact is minimal with printed solar cells, which are organic.”

An additional benefit of solar cells as successors of traditional silicon panels is that these thin and flexible printed solar cells can be produced in a number of different colors. 

Such stylish cells are poised to become even more prevalent. EU construction regulations insist that buildings must produce more energy than they consume.

“In the future, integrating photovoltaic power into buildings will be the standard thing to do,” explains serial entrepreneur and author Janne Käpylehto. “In the same way that we have power sockets in our buildings, we will have integrated photovoltaic power, too.”

COOL pays off

Finnair is inspired by such construction. Set to open in late 2017, Finnair Cargo’s COOL Nordic Cargo hub terminal in Helsinki will harness solar power to meet the requirements of a 50 percent increase in cargo by 2020.

“It makes sense to have energy being used in the terminal coming from your own roof and from the sun,” states Ari Soinola, director cargo excellence, Finnair. “All energy we produce from solar panels will be used in the terminal. The payback time of the installation should be around 10 years.”

This renewable energy will be exploited throughout the terminal’s three temperature-controlled sections, for the likes of automated ULD handling and racking systems, and charging forklift batteries. 

“The terminal is state-of-the-art,” Soinola says. “If we think about level of automation, IT steering and environmental aspects, we are clearly on a podium. We are building the most modern cargo terminal in Europe. And if I can say so myself, it is even up there on a global level.” 

Text by James O’Sullivan
Photo by iStock

Published June 15, 2016

Category: Collaboration, Environment, Corporate Responsibility