Clean Power

Published on October 23rd, 2011 | by Nicholas Brown


Coldest Parts of Earth Have the Best Solar (PV) Potential, Study Finds

October 23rd, 2011 by  


According to a new study, some of the coldest geographic locations on earth have the best solar power generation potential if using photovoltaic panels.

Some of the regions include the southern Andes and the Himalayas.

The two main reasons why some of the coldest regions on earth have the best solar power generation potential are:

  1. They are at high altitudes, which are exposed to more sunlight.
  2. Some types of solar cells (the electricity-generating part of solar panels) generate electricity more efficiently at cold temperatures. Traditional silicon wafer solar cells are affected by heat more than others and, like all solar panels, are exposed to reasonably high temperatures all day long.

I should also add that, according to a study, heat from solar radiation (sunlight) is what degrades solar cells as well as the transparent panels that they are protected behind, and more so than any other environmental factor by far. Heat is almost the exclusive destroyer of solar cells. Because solar cells do not exhibit any measurable degradation without much heat, it is reasonable to assume that they will last longer in colder climates.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that some climates have harsher weather that results in increased hail and strong winds that could damage solar panels with flying debris.

According to the study, covering 4% of the Himalaya’s high potential region with solar panels, which is approximately 12,000 square kilometers (7,460 square miles) could generate all of China’s electricity. China consumes the most energy worldwide. It consumed 4,190 Terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2010. The United States consumed 3,741 TWh that year.

While large-scale solar setups are expensive to install in the cold areas mentioned above, the results of the study could be an incentive for people to set up small scale solar power plants for rural residents.

h/t Yale Environment 360

Photo Credit: Friar’s Balsam

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • Justin Ahlquist

    Sounds like poor research to me. The coldest places tend to have inversion, so now your panel is coated in ice which requires heating elements that negate the energy production. I live in -40f territory and our use of solar panels consistently is an issue with automation causing of 24v batteries and systems to fail and die.

  • Cold panels, esp. Mono and Poly crystalline panels, are more efficient, – up to 30% if they are cold, because their voltage is much higher, – as long as they have a Maximum Power Point Tracker to convert that high voltage to higher amps, but the closer you are to the equator the more Solar energy is possible, (should it not be raining) – even with MPPTs there is no where near as much sunlight in Germany as in Queensland so each situation needs to be looked at carefully.
    Geoff Thomas.

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  • Anonymous

    We have these locations were solar panels would kick out the power but are not very usable due to transmission issues. Throw in the far north and far south polar regions with 24 hour sun during parts of the year.

    The Japanese are going forward with putting panels in space and microwaving the power back down.

    Might it work to put the panels on Earth, microwave the power up to orbiting satellites and distribute it back down to where it’s needed? It seems like our money would be better spent not putting acres of panels into orbit.

    • One thing I always liked about solar power is that it’s right there. I have no idea what the energy implications of microwaving rays from space is but that sounds like a lot of work.

      I hope that the availability of solar power in uninhabited regions does not lead to unsustainable development in those regions.

      • Anonymous

        Solar facilities in out of the way places will bring income to those locations.

        As Europe builds its “Desertec” system they will be installing a lot of PV and thermal solar facilities in North Africa. That is going to mean both more power for the locals and jobs building and running those facilities.

        I doubt it would make any sense to build solar farms high in the Himalayas where snow would be an issue, but up a mile high or so the air is clear, there’s not much snow, and people would love some income sources.

        I have no idea if bouncing power up and back down would make sense. But it seems that it might make more sense than putting the panels in space. Lift costs are enormous.

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