Floating Photovoltaic Solutions Can Unleash New Markets by Avoiding Land Scarcity Issues.
The Sea of Challenge
The utilization of floating photovoltaic technology at sea is accompanied by a series of challenges. These projects not only have high development costs but there are still many unknowns about this technology and how it affects ecosystems, especially underwater ecosystems.
" The biggest challenge is to develop floating photovoltaic solutions
(including anchoring, mooring, floating structures, photovoltaic modules and electrical components, cables) that are robust enough to withstand harsh offshore environments (salt, humidity, wind, and waves) while it can maintain a low and competitive LCOE (Levelized Electricity Cost), "said Wiep Folkerts, head of the solar market and project at TNO, an independent research institution in the Netherlands.
Before the floating photovoltaic solution
becomes one commercially viable solution, including small-scale pilot projects, scientific and technological research, and development are needed to establish long-term, reliable, and performance-related complete solutions (including dynamic cables to the power grid), ecological and sustainable professional knowledge and practical guidelines, while also learning from failures and improving design.
The required robustness largely depends on the location of the water bodies at sea. For example, the environment in the North Sea may be very harsh, with wave heights above 10 meters, and the situation in tropical regions may not be as harsh.
In addition to these issues, structural weight and fatigue life are also the main challenges in developing floating photovoltaic solutions.
Lome said, "The main challenges we see are structural weight and fatigue life, which are closely related to capital expenditure costs. If the cost is not significant, designing a floating object that can withstand a 30-year offshore environment is not very difficult, but the challenge is to find a solution with sufficient longevity at an acceptable cost.
To improve fatigue life, the structure is usually reinforced. By strengthening the structure, the weight increases. The draft increases, and the stress inside the floating photovoltaic power plant also increases. In addition, the fact that no photovoltaic module manufacturers are manufacturing salt-resistant modules is a challenge for commercial projects.
I hope that once they see a market, they will come to their senses and develop components suitable for offshore environments. Co-siting with offshore wind power can indeed become an important market. It will reduce capital expenditure costs because output cables and substations can be shared. The energy output will be more stable. Nowadays, when there is wind, it is often sunny.
As Lome said, co-location of projects can indeed help achieve technological expansion. This may have an impact on the development of this technology. However, Vozza pointed out a unique set of challenges faced by offshore floating photovoltaics: regulatory frameworks.
I believe that as an industry, the main obstacle we truly need to address is the lack of an appropriate and unified regulatory framework. The main challenge is also how various markets will adjust regulatory frameworks to truly accelerate deployment. However, this market is developing very quickly. It can indeed have an impact and expand to GW scale by 2030.
Having an appropriate regulatory framework can enable offshore photovoltaic developers to plan for the future. However, there is currently a lack of standards or frameworks to support this technology. Nevertheless, as the market continues to rebound towards 2030, it is clear that decisions will be made at the political level, and we can see further support for this technology.
This viewpoint has received support from RWE, which has confirmed that a lack of regulatory framework may become a major obstacle.
The floating photovoltaic solution is a new technology with new risks and challenges. Currently, there is a lack of suitable regulatory frameworks or policies that can adapt to hybrid or independent floating photovoltaic projects, "Willow said.
The lack of such policies may result in the need for a large number of licenses, which in some markets may involve several institutions/stakeholders. In addition, there is also a lack of discussion on how floating photovoltaics should be integrated into existing grid infrastructure.
Willow also believes that there are still some technical issues that need to be addressed before floating photovoltaics can be fully commercialized. Developers need to 'understand the actual situation of these devices at sea' to optimize the global use of this technology. Once these issues are overcome, it is possible to achieve a breakthrough in this technology.
Offshore Floating Photovoltaic Expansion in the North Sea
RWE and SolarDuck are two long-standing companies that are exploring potential offshore floating projects in the North Sea. Both parties have collaborated to develop a 5MWp offshore photovoltaic demonstration device. This project will be deployed as part of RWE's Hollande Kust West VII offshore wind power project in the Netherlands. The project is expected to commence operation in 2026.
In one of the most challenging marine environments in the world, this project will provide important first-hand experience for RWE and Solar Duck. These experiences may lead to faster commercialization of this technology in the future.
Meanwhile, the two companies are collaborating on the Merganser project - a 0.5MWp offshore photovoltaic demonstration project located in the North Sea, expected to be installed in 2023.
Vozza believes that the North Sea provides a perfect testing platform for offshore floating photovoltaics, not only because it is close to European countries and offshore wind power, but also because of the harsh conditions in this area.
"If you can succeed in the North Sea, then you can succeed almost anywhere. If you look at the analogical technologies that are being transferred to the sea, you will find that floating photovoltaic technology on the sea does have disruptive potential. Wind energy is a typical example, "Vozza said.
This technology starts inland, shifts to nearshore, shifts to offshore, and then shifts to offshore floating photovoltaics. Solar energy is a more affordable and easily accessible source of energy. It makes sense for solar energy to follow the same path.
On the other hand, Willow believes that the co-location of offshore wind power and offshore floating photovoltaics is an opportunity to generate a large amount of renewable energy.
The integration of offshore photovoltaic systems and offshore wind power plants can effectively utilize ocean space, achieving twice the energy production capacity in the same area. In addition, the complementarity of these two technologies makes the production capacity situation more balanced. We also see synergistic effects in system construction and maintenance.
Commercialization of Floating Photovoltaic Solutions
Offshore floating photovoltaic solutions play an important role in the future of global renewable energy. However, one of the biggest questions is when this technology can be prepared for wider commercialization. As multiple pilot projects around the world continue to innovate this solution and optimize this technology, the question of "when" becomes more prominent.
Folkerts believes that industrial-scale offshore floating photovoltaics may become a reality by the end of this century. In the future, offshore photovoltaics may be deployed on a GWP scale, which is expected to occur after 2027. Considering the innovation in this field and the progress of pilot projects being constructed around the world, this prediction seems reasonable.
When this technology is commercialized on a larger scale, its potential will play a crucial role in promoting global energy transformation.