Will Floating Photovoltaics Become a New Growth Driver in China?
Aug 16, 2019
Up to September, 2018, floating photovoltaics (FPV) have already delivered about 1.1 gigawatts (GW) of installations worldwide. If floating photovoltaics are built on 1% of the world's available water bodies, the total installations will reach 404GW. Some technical problems confronting the installation of floating photovoltaic plants on China's inland waters have been addressed. However, there are great challenges waiting just around the corner, particularly when it comes to the installation on offshore waters, severely polluted water bodies or in harsh environment like ultra-low temperature of water surface. As the number of large-scale solar projects such as rooftop solar panel systems, ground mounts or solar canopies have decreased year by year, a question then arises -- will floating photovoltaics be the next growth point in China?
In recent years, Anhui Province has vigorously promoted the development of floating photovoltaics and obtained notable results. "Most importantly, Anhui boasts the ample availability of water bodies, especially ponds and lakes formed at former coal-mining areas along the Huai River, which are suitable for the installation of floating photovoltaic plants." Li Xiang, deputy general manager of Huainan Sungrow Floating Module Sci.&Tech. Co., Ltd (Sungrow Floating) said in an interview. He also explained that rainwater flows into subsided coal-mining areas and forms lakes, whose conditions are unsuitable for water piling photovoltaic plants on account of the fact that it takes decades for the subsided areas to become stable and to store enough water. Instead, floating photovoltaic plants are not affected by this. "What's more, putting solar on the water costs much less than building it on land and has fewer difficulties in installations." he added.
At the end of 2017, Sungrow developed a 150MW floating photovoltaic plant in Guqiao, Huainan, Anhui, which is currently the world's largest demonstration project for floating photovoltaics. Mr Li said, "Its success is of great significance for the development of floating power plants in China. For instance, once there was controversy over the impact on the environment, but as the plant had been successfully put into use causing no ecological damages, people felt relieved. Reassuringly, we used food grade materials for the installation. Plus, we had taken water coverage and solar irradiance into full consideration to prevent the environment from destroying.
In addition to dispelling concerns about the destruction of ecological environment, according to Li Xiang, Sungrow Floating has gained rich experience in the operation and maintenance of floating photovoltaic stations through a series of practices. He added, "The operation and maintenance of floating photovoltaics cost less than that of ground photovoltaics. To be specific, nowadays ground brackets are 2 meters high at large while floating ones are only a few centimeters high, which means the maintenance of the latter is more convenient. As for photovoltaic systems, the slope of floating modules is consistent, which helps to reduce loss caused by mismatching. At the same time, floating plants exploit the cooling effect of the water and have a compact layout as well as sophisticated offshore inverters and boosters. In a word, they can reduce loss and improve system efficiency.
Mr. Li expressed that as developers land PV projects in succession, some technical problems facing the installation of floating solar plants on China's inland waters have been addressed. However, there are still great challenges to be pushed forward, particularly concerning the installation on offshore waters, severely polluted water bodies or in harsh environment like ultra-low temperature of water surface. "Given these conditions, the technical requirements for the core modules of the power plant will also be more stricter. As we actively explore in the field, the pilot plants are beginning to show results. We have successfully solved problems confronted by freezing temperatures in extremely cold areas, highly-acid polluted water bodies, offshore salt-spray corrosion and typhoon-prone areas, which contributes to wider applications of floating photovoltaics.
"Of course, companies on the entire supply chain should work together to upgrade or customize products, and in this way ultimately improve the adaptability of core facilities to the water bodies of floating photovoltaic plants. For example, in fact there are enough mature products in the submarine cable industry. However, if universal submarine cables are used for floating photovoltaics, we will face eye-watering construction costs. Plus, the water environment of FPV is not as complicated as that of the seabed." Mr. Li also revealed that Sungrow Floating is committing itself to producing custom underwater cables for special applications.
In the past two years, floating solar photovoltaics have seen rapid development at home and abroad. More and more countries have put forward corresponding investment and construction plans to develop floating floating solar power systems, which are set to gain some serious traction and become a new driver of growth. The company, adhering to the philosophy of development "Let everyone has access to clean electricity", will focus on developing more cost-efficient floating systems with broad applications and make strides. (Editor: Claire Jeawin)
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