[Image above] A small floating solar project in Walden, Colorado. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Back in 2019, I learned about an emerging technology that really piqued my interest—floatovoltaics.
“Floatovoltaics,” or floating photovoltaic (PV) panels, are traditional PV panels installed on manmade reservoirs rather than on land. The first pilot-scale floating solar project was installed in Aichi, Japan, in 2007, and a California winery launched the first commercial demonstration of floatovoltaics in 2008. Now, there are more than 100 floatovoltaic sites around the world.
Japan and China currently lead the market for floatovoltaics, with Japan hosting 73 of the world’s 100 largest installations and China hosting the two largest operational floating solar plants in the world. However, in the past few years, I have seen more and more headlines announcing installations planned in other countries.
In today’s CTT, we look at several of these projects to provide insight into this emerging market.
The Netherlands set record for largest floating solar parks in Europe
In July 2020, the independent business news site Renewables Now reported that the largest floating solar park in Europe, which is located in the Netherlands, became operational and locally owned.
GroenLeven, the Dutch subsidiary of renewable energy company BayWa r.e., built the 27.4-MW Bomhofsplas plant in an artificial lake near Zwolle, a city in the Northeastern Netherlands. In June 2020, GroenLeven sold a stake in the floating solar park to provincial fund Energiefonds Overijssel, Zwolle cooperative Blauwvinger Energie, and a private investor. On July 1, the park was officially connected to the grid.
In July 2021, BayWa r.e. and GroenLeven commissioned two even larger floating solar parks in the Netherlands. A BayWa r.e. press release reports that the 41.1-MWp Sellingen park and 29.8-MWp Uivermeertjes park are now the two largest floating solar parks outside of Asia and, combined, will generate enough electricity to supply more than 20,000 households.
Russia, Belgium, and Luxembourg welcome their first floating solar parks
In August 2020, integrated solar energy company the Hevel Group announced that it completed construction of the first floating solar park in Russia. Built on a reservoir at the largest hydropower plant in the Far East region, the new installation consists of 140 solar panels mounted on pontoon-type floats, which allow it to be quickly dismantled and transported to any part of the reservoir.
In September 2020, pv magazine reported the start of operations at Belgium’s first floating solar power plant, which is located on a manmade lake owned by Belgian raw material provider Sibelco. The plant was built by Floating PV, a partnership between Sibelco, Limburg investment company LRM, Belgian energy company Luminus, and Belgian environmental services business Group Machiels. Sibelco released a video of the new installation, which is included at the end of this section.
In November 2021, pv magazine reported that German renewable energy company Enovos and Luxembourg-based steelmaker ArcelorMittal inaugurated Luxembourg’s first floating solar park. The facility, which consists of 25,000 solar modules, resides on a former cooling pond owned by the steel manufacturer’s subsidiary ArcelorMittal Differdange.
Albania and Montenegro bring floating solar parks to the Balkans
The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in Southeast Europe that is usually characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
In June 2021, the bilingual website Balkan Green Energy News reported that Norwegian renewable energy company Statkraft, in cooperation with Norwegian floating photovoltaic specialist Ocean Sun, started commercial operations at the first unit of its floating solar power plant in Albania. However, about a week after launch, the facility was severely damaged and partially submerged. An Offshore Energy article reports that Statkraft and Ocean Sun were working to take the damaged unit ashore and determine the cause of the incident.
Later in June, Balkan Green Energy News reported that Montenegrin state power utility Elektroprivreda Crne Gore would build the first floating solar park in Montenegro, at the utility’s Slano reservoir near the city of Nikšić.
Greece lays plans for more than 800 MW of floating solar parks
In January 2021, pv magazine reported that Greek construction company and energy provider GEK Terna Holding Real Estate Construction planned to build three floating solar power plants with a combined capacity of 265 MW at three different water reservoirs in western Greece.
The article also reported that PPC Renewables SA, a wholly owned subsidiary of national utility Public Power Corporation SA, planned to install 50 MW of floating solar capacity in the country. Additionally, investment company InterPhoton Group submitted a planning application to Greek regulator RAE for the construction of a 500-MW floating solar project.
São Paulo in Brazil seeks partners for floating solar projects
In October 2020, the independent business news site Renewables Now reported that the São Paulo state government in Brazil, through its fully-owned water and energy company EMAE, had launched a public call to select partners to develop floating solar projects with capacity ranging 1–30 MWp.
A follow-up article published by Renewables Now in March 2021 reported that GreenYellow, the renewable energy subsidiary of French retailer Casino, and local energy firm KWP Energia qualified to develop the floating solar projects in four locations at the Billings Reservoir.
West Africa is an area of interest for hybrid floating power plant
In September 2021, pv magazine reported that a Norwegian consortium led by renewable energy developer Scatec had received NOK79 million (US$9.1 million) from the Norwegian government to support its research project to develop a large-scale, hybrid hydro and floating solar power plant at an undisclosed location in West Africa.
The genesis for the project began in 2020 when Scatec bought Ugandan hydroelectric power developer SN Power from Norway’s development finance institution Norfund for US$1.2 million. Now, Scatec is working on the new project with floating photovoltaic specialist Ocean Sun, independent research organization Sintef, software provider Prediktor, the Institute for Energy Technology, and the Norwegian solar industry body Solenergiklyngen.
Singapore aims to build world’s largest floating solar park
According to a Power Technology article, the largest operational floating solar park by capacity is Hangzhou Fengling Electricity Science Technology’s floating solar park in China, with a capacity of 320 MW.
In July 2021, photovoltaic business website PV Tech reported that Singapore-based solar developer Sunseap Group had secured a contract to build a 2.2-GWp floating solar park on the Duriangkang Reservoir on the Indonesian island of Batam. Sunseap signed an agreement with local development authority BP Batam for construction of the plant. Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed in 2024.
Floating wind farms: More renewable energy heads offshore
In addition to floating solar parks, floating wind farms have received increased attention and funding as well.
In April 2020, the EU-funded PivotBuoy project, an international consortium, completed the design of a single-point mooring system platform for floating wind turbines. A European Commission press release announced that the project had entered the manufacturing phase, with assembly and installation planned for autumn 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the PivotBuoy plans. However, onshore assembly of the floating platform successfully started in December 2020, finished in May 2021, and in October 2021 the project managers announced completion of the rotor assembly. View a video of the rotor assembly below.
Credit: X1 Wind, LinkedIn
In March 2021, German multinational energy company RWE announced that it would partner with Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the U.K.-based technology innovation and research center for offshore renewable energy, to study the potential for Scottish businesses to produce commercial-scale concrete foundations for floating wind projects.
In April 2021, maritime media outlet The Maritime Executive reported that U.S.-based engineering company Bechtel and Swedish floating windfarm developer Hexicon were researching the feasibility of constructing large-scale floating power generation technologies.
On a smaller scale, in March 2021, The Buffalo News daily newspaper reported that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was ordered to complete a study for release in early 2022 on whether wind power on the Great Lakes should be part of New York’s green energy portfolio.