by Denise Wall
HELSINKI, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Finland has been a straggler in the race to exploit renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. But a new research project is looking to place the small Nordic nation well ahead of the pack in terms of developing storage systems for these clean energy sources.
An ambitious 7 million-euro (9.4 million U.S. dollars) NEO-CARBON ENERGY project is being led by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and involves collaborators from the Lappeenranta University of Technology and the University of Turku's Finland Futures Research Centre.
"Finland may not be the largest producer of wind turbines or solar panels but we have a chance to take the lead in the development of storage systems for these renewables. The storage, the markets and the software have not yet been developed. This is our chance to break new ground," said the program's principal scientist Pasi Vainikka.
The research may have huge implications for other countries such as China, where large numbers of solar and wind plants are being developed, Vainikka added.
Policymakers are increasingly looking to reduce dependency on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy. However it's becoming progressively clear that existing energy markets and related legal and regulatory frameworks have not kept pace with or adequately integrated fast-developing clean energy technologies.
One major plank of the three-pronged Finnish energy project will see researchers map out the main components of renewable energy production and consumption systems using future research tools.
The researchers will explore what kinds of legislation, regulations and changes are needed. "This also involves looking at new value chains," Vainikka explained.
The project will look at the trade in solar and wind energy produced by different entities, even down to the level of power generated and traded by private citizens. The outcome of this kind of analysis will help create a crucible for testing the viability of new market models.
"So we will look at the regulation required to make Finland the best test bed for these new energy systems," the researcher added.
A second platform of the project will model the energy systems and markets by attempting to harmonize energy supply with consumption. According to Vainikka, researchers will be aiming to design a highly flexible and dynamic model that can match production and storage on an annual or even hourly basis to ensure the most secure and functional system possible.
The third component of the far-reaching project concerns the storage of solar and wind energy and is perhaps the most significant for Finland, a country that resides partly in the Arctic Circle, and where winter is the longest season of the year.
The project envisions storing energy from wind and solar power in the form of hydrocarbons such as natural gas. Moreover the system would be carbon-neutral, since carbon produced in the electric power system would be re-used as an input to the energy system, along with emissions from transport and industry as well as captured atmospheric carbon.
The team wants to have the first designs ready in one year and the first prototypes in two years, said Vainikka.
"Once we develop the first designs and prototypes then industry takes them forward. If we don't deliver interesting prototypes then we've failed. We need to ensure that our researchers are oriented towards developing real-world workable products for industry," Vainikka declared.
The extensive research project promises to give Finland a leg-up in efficiently exploiting clean energy sources and producing emission-free energy. But the eventual findings could also have a major impact on energy self-sufficiency and the reduction of energy poverty around the world.