Finnish developers of solar energy to receive awards in Vaasa today

Millennium Distinction Awards for three companies and two researchers

Finnish experts in the rapidly-growing solar energy sector will receive awards in Vaasa tonight. Technology Academy Finland will present Millennium Distinction Awards to two Finnish researchers and three companies operating in the sector. Professor Jouko Korppi-Tommola from the University of Jyväskylä and Professor Helge Lemmetyinen from Tampere University of Technology will be recognised for their pioneering development work in solar power.

Companies receiving awards are Beneq Oy and Naps Systems Oy from Vantaa, and Vacon Oyj from Vaasa.Now being given for the fourth time, Millennium Distinction Awards are presented to Finnish researchers and growth companies for outstanding technological achievement in the field of the most recent Millennium Technology Prize Winner. The 2010 Millennium Technology Prize was won by Professor Michael Grätzel for his invention of dye-sensitized solar cells. Professor Grätzel will be presenting the winners with their awards at a gala dinner held in their honour.

Ainomaija Haarla, President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland, is pleased that, in accordance with the objectives of the Millennium Distinction Awards, a huge range of expertise in the field of the Millennium Technology Prize Winner can currently be found in Finland. “The selection committee analysed information on both researchers and companies from all over Finland, and I was happy to discover that there were so many good candidates. The winners represent a true cross-section of expertise in Finland’s solar energy sector.”

Grätzel cells, third-generation solar cell technology, are now entering the market. This new generation of solar cells is expected to bring down the price of solar energy significantly. Figures from 2010 show that traditional silicon-based solar cell technology is also doing well: production capacity increased to a record-breaking 16.6 GW, more than 40% of the world’s current total solar energy capacity (approximately 40 GW). Annual global energy production from installed solar panels now totals approximately 50 TWh, an amount of energy equivalent to that produced by six nuclear power plants of size similar to Finland’s Loviisa nuclear power facility.

Solar energy expertise is available all over Finland

The companies winning Millennium Distinction Awards have helped to accelerate rapid growth in the solar energy sector. The inverters produced by Vaasa-based Vacon convert the direct current produced by solar panels into alternating current used by electrical power systems and are an indispensable component in solar power systems.

Naps Systems, a solar power systems supplier founded in 1981, is a Finnish pioneer in the solar energy sector. Over the past 30 years, Naps Systems has supplied more than 200,000 solar power systems to over 140 countries. Systems supplied range from solar panels used in boats to large solar power plants.

Solar energy is also the largest market area for Beneq, which was founded in 2005. The company’s technology is used to manufacture thin-film coatings used in next-generation solar cells. Beneq’s customers are large solar-cell and component manufacturers.

The academics receiving Millennium Distinction Awards are carrying out research into new solar cell technologies which are not yet commercially available.

Professor Jouko Korppi-Tommola’s research group is focusing on the electrical phenomena that occurring in Grätzel cells and photosynthesis. Through electrochemical reactions, light energy is transformed into the sugars and carbohydrates required by plants – in solar cells, it is transformed into the electrical energy that humans need.

The research group led by Professor Helge Lemmetyinen is concentrating exclusively on studying the functioning of internal and external photovoltaic phenomena in molecular films fabricated from organic compounds, and on applying the results in the manufacture of lightweight, flexible solar cells. The current performance ratio of 6.4% is already close to the 11% achieved in Grätzel cells.

“2010 was a record-breaking year for solar energy, proving that its significance in future energy production has finally been understood,” says Professor Lemmetyinen. “Receiving a Millennium Distinction Award is great recognition for my work and the work of every member of the research group.”

The event is organised in cooperation with Technology Centre Merinova/Energy Technology Cluster programme (OSKE).