Most people believe that solar energy will only develop the best in sunny and hot places. However, this concept might need to be corrected. There are three main factors determining PV power generation efficiency. The first is the number of sunshine hours. The second is temperature. Regions with lower temperatures are generally more favorable for PV energy efficiency. The third factor is latitude. In recent years, the development of PV energy has started to gain some momentum in high latitude regions.
Regarding the first point, let's look at an opposite example, the Sunshine state, Florida, where the summer is hot and humid. At first glance, it might be tempting to assume that the city’s PV cell conversion efficiency will be high due to the amount of sun in the area. However, according to solar energy expert, Soren Lange, solar panels convert light, not heat, into electricity. Compared with sunny and hot areas, sunny and cold areas might be better suited for the development and conversion of solar energy.
This explains why there has been a growing interest in floating PV systems, which have become highly anticipated in recent years. As water can lower solar panel temperature, the overall power conversion efficiency can be improved.
Aside from temperature, an environment’s latitude is also an important factor behind the effectiveness of PV energy. Take Germany, for example; the country’s latitude is higher than that of Massachusetts, USA, and its weather is colder. However, Germany's solar industry development is far better than that of Massachusetts. According to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), its statistics showed that Massachusetts' solar energy output was placed sixth in the US, and that it has provided electricity for 244,000 households. In comparison, Germany reached a new milestone for its green energy history in 2017. Germany's peak PV output can reach 55.2 GW. Its lowest output is 16 GW.
Another high latitude area is Oslo, Norway. Its solar power generation is similar to that of Germany, with the potential to reach 1,000kWh per square meter.
Solar power development can also thrive in regions with subarctic climates, such as the Northwest Territories (NWT) of Yukon, Canada. In NWT, there is 11.8 KW array of solar panels for the Arctic Research Centre in Old Crow. NWT is currently planning to install 330 KW solar energy systems. According to a feasibility study in 2016, these 330 KW arrays of installation can reduce 17% of total diesel consumption. In other words, 98 thousand liters of fuel can be saved each year.
For NWT, there are three benefits to using these future PV system installations: First, they can help to reduce the overall impact from the fluctuation of fuel imports. Second, villages can fully fulfill their own power demands via off-grid solar systems during summer. Third, using PV systems will allow them to only use fuel to generate power during polar nights in winter.
Another example that illustrates the benefits of high latitude regions is Alaska, USA. According to a report from United States Department of Energy (DOE) in 2016, Alaska has the potential to develop solar energy. In 11 of its counties, the cost of solar energy can already compete with that of fuel-generated power. Compared with the cost of solar energy in 2016, the cost in 2018 is getting lower, which suggests that the competitiveness of PV power in the region is rising. The potential of some Alaskan areas' solar power generation can even compete with that of Germany. A good example for that is Sitka from Southeast Alaska. This area is not influenced by the polar night phenomena.
To sum up, according to different researches, there are better potential to develop solar energy systems in cold, high-latitude places. Even though there are polar nights and many rainy days in some of those areas, the off-grid regions can be benefited by using solar power devices strategically.