Viikki could become a global model campus for solar energy

The Viikki Campus is home to a host of laboratories and is responsible for a third of the University’s overall energy consumption. However, it also houses a solar power plant which feeds electricity into the campus grid nearly year-round. The goal is to further reduce the amount of purchased electricity by increasing the production of solar energy and cutting electricity consumption.

The Viikki Campus solar plant on the roof of the Korona Infocentre is hidden by the edge of the building when viewed from the ground. On a sunny summer day, the 526 panels of this silent power plant can feed more than 1,000 kWh of energy into the campus’ energy grid.

Assistant Director Aimo Hämäläinen from the Centre for Properties and Facilities is pleased with the solar power plant, which was installed last spring.

“The system has worked brilliantly, exactly as expected. The panels even yielded a surprisingly large amount of power in December,” Hämäläinen states.

The first plans to install solar panels on the roof of Korona were made in the late 1990s, when the building was being designed. At the time, the technology was still in its infancy, so the plans were postponed. The panels have since improved and are now sufficiently effective. Even though the polycrystalline panels are angled at 20 degrees, closer to the roof than would be optimal, they still produce energy effectively without casting shadows on one another.

In addition to the panels and the bunches of wires, the solar energy equipment takes up only a few square metres of wall space in the equipment room. This space is occupied by five main inverters, each about the size of a small suitcase, which convert the electricity from the solar panels to a form compatible with the electrical grid.

Starting small

The University of Helsinki is responsible for about 0.1% of Finland’s total power consumption. The Viikki Campus consumes nearly a third of the University’s total electricity budget, approximately 20 gWh.

The Korona Inforcentre’s 800-square-metre field of panels produces just under 140 mWh annually, representing about 0.1% of the campus’ overall consumption. If this seems small, remember that it is just the beginning; the Viikki Campus aims to expand its production of solar energy.

“The upcoming renovation of Biocentre 1, for example, would be an excellent opportunity to install solar panels. Many other buildings on campus also have flat roofs, which could easily house solar panels. Some panels could be placed on the roofs of the maintenance buildings of the greenhouses, for example,” notes Aimo Hämäläinen.

In the future, Aimo Hämäläinen dreams of a Viikki Campus with 5,000–8,000 solar panels on the rooftops of the University’s buildings, making Viikki a significant and globally unique solar energy campus. The Viikki Environment House, located at the beginning of Viikinkaari and housing facilities for both the City of Helsinki and the University, fits this image well. Completed in 2011, the building has the lowest energy consumption of any office building in Finland, and its south facade is almost entirely covered with solar panels.

It’s not what you make, it’s how much you spend

As hot a topic as solar power is, all discussion of alternative energy production should also consider the other side of energy policy: reducing consumption through efficiency.

“We can’t cut energy consumption by clinging to the old ways of doing things. Cold storage, other laboratory instruments and IT equipment consume a great deal of electricity. Summer, when the need for cooling is greatest, is the peak season for energy consumption. At the same time, summer often has the highest electricity prices due to maintenance outages at power plants. We should learn to use our equipment more sensibly everywhere on campus,” says Aimo Hämäläinen.

See how much electricity the Korona Infocentre solar panels are generating in real time