How suitable is solar?


Monday, 28 May, 2018


How suitable is solar?

New research from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland suggests that while solar power can provide around 30% of the required energy needs for indoor public swimming pools, there are still some major considerations required at the planning stage to make it a truly viable alternative.

Finnish researchers were looking for solutions to facilitate a current EU directive, which requires all new buildings to be nearly zero-energy (NZEB) by the end of 2020. Given that 40% of total EU energy consumption is attributed to buildings, the directive targets new construction in an effort to decrease energy consumption and mitigate climate change as part of the EU’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Researchers nominated three key ways to improve energy consumption: by improving thermal insulation of the building envelope, by employing more energy-efficient equipment (such as HVAC) within the building and by replacing part of the energy demand with renewable energy — solar in this instance.

For the study (titled Towards zero energy sports halls) VTT conducted computer simulations of two common indoor sports facilities: an ice rink and a swimming pool. The study aimed to determine ways in which energy consumption could be reduced in these electricity-intensive environments. It found that (unstored) solar power is a suitable alternative for ice rinks in spring, summer and autumn, when the energy requirement for refrigeration — coupled with available sunlight — is at its highest. The story was somewhat different for indoor pools, as an increased heating requirement in winter couldn’t be met through solar alone.

Of course, when it comes to weather and available sunshine, Finland is certainly not Australia. On average, a Finnish mid-summer’s day boasts around 19 daylight hours, compared with a much lower six hours during the winter months. Depending on location in Australia, summer delivers around 14 daylight hours and winter around 10, so seasonal sunlight availability is not so much of a concern here.

What we do share is the need for an economical solar storage solution. The VTT study found that the greatest challenge to development of a zero-energy building is the cost of solar storage, based on currently available solutions, which is obviously made more challenging during winter months.

The other major hurdle in these applications is space — existing battery storage solutions are cumbersome and take up significantly more room than other energy alternatives, such as liquid fuels. The study suggests batteries can take up anywhere between 10 and 100 times the space of fuels and, with a service life of between 10–15 years, they are still a reasonably expensive solution.

The VTT researchers hope that the study method developed will be a useful tool for planning new facilities, allowing designers to create modelling for renewable energy alternatives. They believe the information provided will assist in planning the number of solar panels required, along with other physical qualities, such as panel orientation.

Publication: Towards zero energy sports halls

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Plainview

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