Weal and Woe in China Floating Solar Market

Weal and Woe in China Floating Solar Market

As the second batch of front-runner floating solar bases had been examined and approved, floating solar has become a new direction of technological transitions for solar photovoltaics. In recent years, investors pay constant attention to the representative front-runner floating solar farms that have been built along the Huai River, Anhui and those located in Jining, Shandong, which are two main bases. For the entire industry, the materials, quality, and service life of floating photovoltaics were the focal points. In the past two years, floating solar, a new trend of solar photovoltaics, has been gradually accepted by investment enterprises, and the scale of construction is also expanding. At the same time, the supply of supporting product has been improved, and the experience for design and construction has been accumulated.

The Development of China's Floating Solar Market

In 2017, among the second batch of front-runner floating PV bases, the average depth of the Huai River was about 6 meters, and the depth in some particular areas was more than 10 meters. Plus there were massive subsided areas. Under these conditions, floating PV became the best choice for local development. However, at that time, there are few floating photovoltaic power plants, let alone demonstration projects. Thus, on the one hand, the practical experience in design and construction was absent. On the other hand, the service life and quality of floating photovoltaic products represented by floating bodies and the supply need further improvement.

Currently, floating body manufacturers that can produce floating photovoltaics are mainly divided into three types: the manufacturers transformed from the production of traditional dock products and floating facilities; the manufacturers that relies on OEM (abbr. Original Equipment Manufacturer) and speculation in the industry; and the suppliers represented by Sungrow's wholly-owned subsidiary Sungrow Floating Module Sci.&Tech. Co.,Ltd (Sungrow Floating), which enter the market through industry expansion and, primarily system solutions of products and photovoltaic power plants.

Built by the company Sungrow Power Supply and completed in June, 2018, the floating solar photovoltaic power plant in Huainan, Anhui, included the installation of 166,000 panels and generated 40 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 15,000 homes. The plant, as a pioneer in the field of large-scale floating solar, provided valuable experience for the further development of floating solar in the country, including the design, supply, array arrangement and the construction of large-scale floating PV projects.

Achievements in the Floating Solar Industry

As a boon to so many people, constructors, investors, developers in the industry and massive electricity consumers included, floating solar has gained popularity in recent years. Companies join hands to overcome technical difficulties in many aspects, from floating array design, development of floating body product, the design of anchor system, development of floating inverters and combiner boxes to power generation system simulation and cost-benefit analysis. In addition, they collaborate with suppliers in establishing and facilitating the entire supply system of floating solar equipment.

Furthermore, teams specialized in polymer material research and in dynamic mechanical analysis have been set up to focus on two core problems - how to prolong the service life of floating body products and how to design desirable floating array models that can carry specified load. Through the efforts, these teams have systematically tested and improved the mainstream HDPE raw materials used in the market, ensuring their processability and weatherability. At the same time, professional laboratories has been established to perform mechanical testing of products in time. With all the above improvement measures, many companies can now provide customers with integrated solutions, including the layout of floating arrays, electrical solutions and anchoring schemes.

Challenges in the Floating Solar Industry

After years of large-scale development, valuable experience has been accumulated in the design and construction of floating solar photovoltaic power plants. However, it is observed that domestic supply of floating equipment falls far short of meeting the increasing demand for large-scale installations. And the quality of those floating devices cannot be guaranteed. Besides, problems like short supply, lack of standards, eye-watering costs emerge one after another. So while there are achievements to the technology, there are also some challenges to be pushed forward.

First, the installations of floating solar PV cost much more than that of traditional types of solar PV. Because, according to EnergySage, as a relatively new technology, the installations of floating solar PV require "specialized equipment and more niche installation knowledge", and require "higher price than installing similar-sized solar farms on rooftops or solid ground". Nevertheless, with the advancement in this technology, the costs are expected to drop. 

Second, the supply and demand of floating bodies is already horribly imbalanced. In 2017, the market demand for floating bodies nationwide was about 1.5 gigawatts, while the supply capacity was only 300 megawatts. It is rather difficult to reconcile the contradiction between supply and demand, which pose great challenges to the further development of floating solar. Such being the case, it is necessary to integrate resources on the entire supply chain, and develop automated production management systems which will help to improve productivity and accordingly increase floating bodies in supply to meet the increasing demand.

To conclude, there is still a long way to go for the future of floating solar PV. (Editor: Claire Jeawin)